There are cruel and fearsome things that prowl the open ocean.

April 26, 2015 at 12:00 AM
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Mankind believe themselves to have escaped the horrors that preyed on them in bygone ages. Perhaps we are right. Mostly. The torch of scientific progress kindled by Newton and his contemporaries spread like wildfire in the centuries that followed, and drove the beasts that dwelt in our shadows scampering back to the darkened pits that spawned them; turning the hunter into the hunted. Physics, the idea that our world operates through universal and comprehensible laws, castrated the secret magics that had once left kings and peasant children alike shivering in the terror of all-concealing night. Darwin and his concept of evolution banished the ancient monsters with such speed and determination that Heracles himself would have been envious,

But there are still places in this world where the light of modernity hasn’t reached. A number of San tribes (commonly known as Bushmen) in Namibia speak of the ¯koo-b¯u*, or Bone Eaters. A tall (7-8′), grey, lanky, bipedal creature with lean yet protruding muscles capable of tremendous speeds; large rock hard hands that taper into sharp nailless points with bulbous knuckles and joints; hollow, deep set sockets holding round white eyes that roll about in them like a billiard ball; and of course the mouth, stretching across the entirety of its face, holding spiked teeth as a hard and bright as marble that seem to glisten even at night, always cracked into a broad grin when it encounters a straggling child who has wandered too far from the rest of the tribe.

The Nukak people of the Amazon basin speak of the Kanábéyáa, or Black Jaguar People. Little is definitively known about them, save the resemblance between their black fur, retractable claws, round pinprick eyes, and those of their namesake; their ability to shift between a bipedal and quadrapedal stance; and their propensity for hunting nearly anything, including humans foolish enough not to guard their campsites at night. Again and again, anthropologists hear tales of night sentries looking on in terror as bright eyes; first two, then dozens, circle and dance about the periphory of their encampment. Hellish yowls and hisses cut through the air, followed by panicked shouts and the chaos of men brought into the waking world by their greatest fear. And then, in a brief moment that seems an eternity to those caught within it, silence. The inevitable return into the veil of night. Of course, war stories are always told by the survivors, so there is a lack of testimony from those unfortunate groups who were either caught off guard, or else, for one reason or another, were deemed to be worth the fight. There are also tales of hunting parties finding one of their neighboring tribes eviscerated, stripped of flesh and meat, and left to rot in the coming sun.

But these stories will have to wait for another time. I come to you not with a tale of some hidden crevasse deep in the heart of the wilderness, but of that endless sprawl that surrounds all of humanity’s achievements. The last great uncharted territory. The ocean.

I had just graduated, and, like many that come from families of considerable means, viewed the gap between getting my diploma and getting a job as an oppurtunity for exploration. Unlike many of my peers, I was not content to use this period merely as an opportunity to get wasted and sleep around in a different corner of the globe. Not that I’m trying to come off as superior or condescending, I have no right for that. I started off in Europe just like everyone else, moving from Paris to Rome to Zurich to Vienna to Berlin and then Prague, indulging in the careless excesses that tend to characterize these trips. But at the same time, I wanted more than that. I wanted to ride the back of an oxe drawn cart down a withered trail to places my fellow Americans never laid eyes on. I wanted to slum it in the homes of destitute village inhabitants despite the fact that I could easily afford a four star hotel. I wanted something new, something unseen, some amazing forgotten secret.

The noteworthy part of my trip begins in Vanino, a fairly small seaport town on the Eastern coast of Russia. I had taken the Trans-Siberian Railroad as far as Khabarovsk, and from there I decided I would get to the coast by hitching rides with locals. It was the mid 90’s, and the collapse of the Soviet Union was still reverberating through the economy, which meant that everyone from corrupt bureaucrats in imported cars to farmers with mule drawn carts were more than willing to lighten my pockets of those heavy Francs and Deutschmarks. From my atlases and road guides, Vanino seemed the perfect place to set off for the final waypoint in my journey, Japan. It was small, and far enough from the railway to be empty of other tourists. Despite this, it had a moderately large seaport, and its proximity to the impossibly large forests of Siberia meant that at least some of its outbound ships were likely en route to help satiate Japan’s monstrous hunger for foreign timber.

While this ended up being the case, it was a bit harder than I thought to secure transport. Looking back, I can’t believe how stupid and brazen my approach was. Just walking onto the harbour of some backwater port town in a country whose language I could barely ask for the bathroom in, and somehow expecting that I would find a crew willing to drag my naive ass halfway down the Eastern coast of Asia. However, the Russian economy was in shambles, people really were desperate, and I was lucky enough to find someone who wasn’t quite so desperate as to simply rob me for all of the promised money. Then again, the way things turned out, perhaps I would have been better off getting beaten within an inch of my life, separated from all of my assets, and left to die in a town unconcerned with the well being of some obnoxious foriegner.

I met Kee Sye in a bar not too far from the harbor. I had spent many hours in that tavern, a fairly typical Russian bar with wood paneling, high tables, and way too many pictures hanging in way too close proximity to each other. I had refined my intelligence gathering technique until it began to take on a ritualistic quality. I went through the motions of this ritual as I always had. Buy him a drink first to warm him up to the idea of chatting with an American, find out if he speaks any English, if he works on a boat, and where he is heading. He was short, even for a Southeast Asian, and judging from his attire, had done quite a bit of travelling. He wore a thick red-brown coat that was scuffed, stained, and disheveled, yet clearly hardwearing, with no visible rips or patches despite the obvious abuse it had suffered, and an equally battered pair of American jeans. I found out that he was from Singapore, spoke English, and was a deckhand aboard the Сумерки бегун. He didn’t seem to particularly enjoy the company of Russians, which accounted for the relative ease in which we struck up a conversation. Seven beers and countless tales later, accounts of our respected travels, growing louder and more dramatic with each empty glass, and I finally had the nerve to bring up my predicament. As it turns out, he was heading to Nagoya on a small timber ship with a crew of eleven other men. I told him I was looking for transit to Japan, I had plenty of money, and that I would make it worth his and his captain’s while if they could find some room for me. He warned me that the conditions onboard were less than ideal, and I assured him it wouldn’t be a problem. He told me to meet with him tomorrow at the same place.

He didn’t show up until almost 10:00 the next night. I was on the verge of giving up and going home when I finally saw a tiny figure in the doorway. We locked eyes and he walked over to my table. I ordered him a beer and listened to what he had to say. The captain accepted my offer. They were leaving in two days. One of the deckhands had some medical issues and wasn’t capable of making the trip, so his bunk was going to be open anyways. I was to arrive at 6:00 a.m. on Monday ready to embark.

The Сумерки бегун was a fairly standard, if almost absurdly old (though this is also fairly standard among Russian ships), timber carrier. About 250′ long and 40′ wide, it had large cranes on both the bow and stern of the ship, as well as a second, smaller crane at the very tip of the stern. The majority of the interior was used for timber stowage. Two large compartments, one for each crane, were on either side of the ship. Between them there was a small section with the bridge above deck, and the crew quarters below.

Besides Kee Sye and myself, there were ten other crew members. There was Vladislav, the captain. A man with thinning hair whose hard stare and sharp voice put him somewhere between distinguished and despotic. Mikhail was the chief mate. An older man, in his mid 60’s by the look of him, he seemed frail compared to the rest of the crew, though if you saw him surrounded by members of his own age group he would probably strike you as robust. Zakhar, the second mate, looked about 40 with a fairly average height and build. Depending on the time of day, there would either be a slight tremble in his hands or else a faint redness in his cheeks. Where I would often see Vladislav and Mikhail debating with each other, Zakhar took his captain’s words with as infallible truths, and was often seen trailing behind him like a hungry dog.

The crew quarters were divided into three rooms with two bunk beds in each. The man whose spot I had taken was bunking with Alexsei, Wei, and Rodion. Alexi was the chief engineer. He had neatly cut brown hair and a nose you could tell had taken more than a handful of punches. When sober, he had a short, direct manner of speaking, but once he had a few drinks in him, he would oscillate between hostile machismo and awkward sentimentality. Wei, the second engineer, was from China. He was slightly taller than Kee Sye, standing at maybe five foot six, and possessed a relentless energy. He would spring, rather than stand up from a chair, and walked around the deck as if he were always on an important errand. He seemed legitimately interested in me and my homeland. I may well have been the first American he ever laid eyes on. However, his command of Russian was only a few rungs above mine, which made communication problematic. Rodion was the tallest crew member, maybe six foot three, and, despite his position as a wiper, he had the large muscular build of the deckhands. He had an aura of detachment about him, especially with regards to me. Despite sharing a bunk, we spoke to each other maybe three times in those first few days, with me trying to either break the ice or address some practical concern in broken Russian, and him giving a one or two word reply and moving on. Whether it was because I was a wealthy outsider or because that was just his approach to new people I can’t say. Though I would occasionally observe him in animated conversation with Georgy late in the evening.

The rest of the crew comprised of Georgy, the boatswain, as well as Viktor, Ganzorig and Nergui, who were deckhands. I’ll spare you the details of each, only noting that Georgy and Viktor were Russian, while Ganzorig and Nergui were Mongolian. Of the crew, only Kee Sye and Mikhail spoke English, so my communication with everyone else was pragmatic in nature.

I came aboard at the appointed time, careful not to disturb the loading process as I heaved my pack into my room and prepared for the voyage to come. I sat on my bed, debated going up and offer my assistance, but eventually decided that I would probably be more of a nuisance than a help. I ended up just kicking up my feet and waiting for the final preparations to be completed. Within an hour or so, the wood was loaded, the gangplank was up, and we were out on the open ocean.

The first few days were uneventful. I tried to stay out of the way as much as possible, reading in my quarters while the crew went about their business. In the evenings I would sit in the dining area and occasionally chat with Kee Sye and Mikhail.
Kee would typically entertain me with stories of his adventures while I sat there taking it all in like an eager eight year old. Mikhail had many stories as well, but unlike the bravado that dripped from the Singaporean’s words, Mikhail’s voice possessed a sort of desperation. He had seen it all, and the weight of his lifetime on the high seas had left him hunched and weary. Still, I enjoyed talking with him, finding a certain folksy charm in his stark stories and peasant superstitions.

On the morning of the fourth day, the fog hit. It was unbelievable. The kind of fog that Eliot wrote about in Prufrock, with a thick, overpowering presence that you could almost feel rubbing against your skin. There was some debate among the officers as to how to procede. Vladislav felt that, given how far out at sea we were, it was safe enough to rely soley on their instruments without having to fear running aground. Mikhail disagreed. He brought up of the unreliability of the equipment, the strain it would put on the crew, and the possibility of getting lost. But mostly he spoke of omens, of tales picked up in the decades he spent far from the sight of land. He spoke of ships pressing through such fogs and never returning, and of unspeakable horrors recounted by those few who did. Vladislav made a show of dismissing such claims, trying to keep a stoic expression as he quiped some offhand rejection in his native tongue. Even then, however, I could detect an ever-so-slight quiver in his voice, as if it were the protocols of masculinity and not his calculating judgement that urged him forward. He gave the order to sail on.

Three hours later, we began to hear the screams. I was reading in my bunk when the horrible wails of what sounded like a young girl cut through the air with such intensity that my body shuddered in response. I ran up to the deck to see what had happened, and the confused voices and faces staring into the distance confirmed what I had feared. The voice had not come from the ship, but from below.

Somehow, the fog had gotten even worse than before, I could barely see the silhouettes of people standing ten feet in front of me. The confused voices began to get angry, and after a few minutes they were on the verge of yelling. I waited for a lull in the conversation to ask Kee Sye what was happening. He informed me that the crew had become divided over what to do, with one faction, led by Mikhail, urging that we abandon everything and turn around. Another, led by Alexi, proposed stopping the ship and trying to mount a rescue operation. A third group, led by Vladislav, argued that we should press our way through the fog as quickly as possible, that we would be free of it sooner if we kept going than if we turned around, and that we were so far away from the girl that by that point that, even if the fog lifted immediately, we would still have no hope of finding her. While Kee Sye was explaining this to me, Zakhar came rushing down from the bridge. According to Kee, he had attempted to send a distress signal alerting the authorities to the stranded girl, but wasn’t sure if he succeeded. The radio appeared to be functioning properly, but there was no response to his distress signal. Furthermore, most of the navigational equipment was malfunctioning, giving readings that were absolutley impossible. Immediately, the raised voices tranformed into a full blown screaming match, with each side taking the new revelation as proof of the righteousness of their plan. Eventually, Vladislav used his position to overrule the dissenters, and again gave the orders to push on. This time, however, there was open dissention in the air, and I didn’t need to speak the language to hear it.

Onward we drifted into the infernal shroud. Silence fell over the ship as the crew paced about nervously; gazing off into the murky gloom, seeking out some cause for the sense of doom that hung over us as palpably as the fog itself. It did not take long for the ocean to give its answer.

Those screams. Those horrible screams. At once roaring with untold power and yet quivering with all too human pain. It was as if every minute permutation of human suffering joined together in a demonic cacophony. Men well versed in the pains of violence and hunger fell to their knees like innocent children; tears bursting from their eyes and fear erupting from their mouths. Up and down both port and starboard we ran. The cries seemed to have no definite origin, yet we somehow knew their source lay right below us. Suddenly there was a commotion at the other end of the ship. I ran over and saw Viktor and Mikhail in a ferocious argument. Inscrutable words drenched in fear and rage flew back and forth as the fight began to shift from one of words to one of blows. Viktor suddenly dashed towards the railing. Georgy and Nergui tried to restrain him but swift elbows sent them reeling backwards and in an instant he was gone. Mikhail shouted orders as I ran to where he had jumped. The waters below were empty save the ever present swell of waves.

Lengths of rope were knotted into what my seaworthless eyes would call a modified a noose, or else tied to one of the two life preservers. Looking over the port railing, I saw a figure bob up to the surface, motionless excluding the ocean’s sway. I shouted out, and Kee Sye echoed my words in Russian as the whole crew charged across the deck. Ropes were hurled into the water. First came the life preservers, but when there was no attempt to grab on, everyone began to toss what they had into the water. Whether it was luck, skill, or something sinister that caused Ganzorig to effortlessly catch his knot around the figure I cannot say, but he did, so we grasped the rope and began to pull.

Looking back, there is one thing that strikes me about this rescue operation. Perhaps we were all too caught up in the madness of the moment to think about it, perhaps the fog was too thick for us to notice, but I find it shocking that nobody realized as we rushed about, trying to save our fallen comrade, that Vladislav and Zakhar were sitting in the bridge, ignorant of what was transpiring. It did not occur to anyone that as we scrambled to save that lone figure floating alongside us, our ship was speeding through the fog.

It was not Viktor who we hauled onto the deck, but a woman. We dragged her up, and as she crested the railing, a sense of trepidation grew within us. At first, we were not sure precisely what was wrong with her, though there was no doubt that something was amiss. Georgy pushed through the crowd, dropping to his knees to attempt first aid, but the moment he saw her up close he fell backwards and began to tremble. A wave of shock rolled through us as one by one we got close enough to see her. Her face, my god, her face. That nightmarish visage was burnt into my mind the moment I laid eyes on it. Barely a night goes by that does not see me shooting up from sleep, drenched in sweat, every awful detail recreated in my dreams exactly as it appeared before me on that light-veiled day.

The facial expression of horror exists at the most extreme limits of human body language. Every muscle of the face is stretched to an extreme degree. The eyes are open, but unlike the expressions of interest or surprise, in which the surrounding musculature stretches out vertically, when we experience horror, our muscles stretch back from the eyes in every direction, as if the very face itself is trying to escape from what its eyes are seeing. The mouth too is stretched to the limits of its expressive capability, and unlike a smile, which stretches horizontally, or a “jaw drop”, which stretches vertically, the muscles pull back in all directions, causing that instantly recognizable expression. The muscles in that woman’s face acted as I describe above, but somehow, they had stretched beyond anything I would have thought possible. Well beyond the typical limits of the human facial expression. It was like she had experienced something so horrifying that her face was forced to contort in ways no face had ever done before, or perhaps like it was stretched in terror for so long that the muscles involved had developed a strength unknown to the rest of humanity.

Once we had gotten over the shock of her face, we began to notice other strange things about her. When we brought her up, she was naked, and initially we had thought her to be elderly due to the wrinkles that covered her body. But then we began to notice some strange inconsistancies. The wrinkles of her face curved in odd ways to avoid patches of acne. There were a shocking number of cuts, scrapes, and bruises along her body. While a certain amount of injury is to be expected in the survivor of a maritime accident, what struck me about these injuries was how evenly they were inflicted across her body. There was not a one inch patch of skin unmarred by some kind of laceration. Fresh cuts sat atop an intricate web of scar tissue and her skin formed into miniature X’s wherever a fresh gash happened upon one that had’nt fully healed. Small holes offered windows to the world of organs and muscle within. Scrapes ran about her body in perfect curves like the intricate line patterns found in many Mosques. Fingernails and toenails ran the spectrum from nearly full to entirely absent, with blistered skin suggesting many had been recently ripped from the socket. Looking at her, it was impossible to escape the notion that these injuries were done by a calculating, sentient mind with the aim of inflicting as much suffering as possible.

Actually, there was one place on her body that was slightly different than the rest. On the small of her back, there was a large, circular hole much larger than the others, about two inches in diameter. There was nothing separating hee spinal cord from the outside world, and there was an odd spiral pattern that seemed to have been carved into the bone itself.

While we were deeply shaken by what we had seen, Mikhail in particular was profoundly disturbed. He had fallen to the ground, rolled onto his side, and his voice seemed completely devoid of expression. I knelt down next to him and put my hand on his shoulder. Despite something deep inside me knowing it was a lie, in as calm a voice as I could muster, I said:

“Relax. We’re safe as long as we’re on the boat, and it can’t be too much longer until this fog clears.”

There was a long pause as he stared at me the way a worn down first grade teacher might stare at a student who confidantly proclaimed that he had figured out a way to get rid of war and violence: all we have to do is take all the guns and knives away from all the bad people.

“No.” He finally said. “We are not safe. We will not flee her.”

“What do you mean?” I said incredulously. “Who the hell are you talking about?”

“She is the hunter. The cruel one. She has picked us as her prey. We will not escape.”

“You mean whatever did this to that poor girl is after us? If she’s as powerful as you seem to think she is, why hasn’t she attacked us directly? Why bother with the fog and the mind games?”

“It’s her way. She has many powers, but she can’t leave the water. She does not need to. We will come to her. In time all of us will come to her.”

“There has to be something we can do. If she can’t leave the water than we should be safe as long as we stay on the ship. We can turn around. This fog can’t be everywhere. It can’t go on forever. If this fog really does stretch farther than we can sail, then the whole world would know about it by now. There would be rescue missions. Every news station on the planet would be reporting on the death fog and the hunt for all of the ships trapped within it.”

Mikhail laughed a hateful laugh that shook me almost as much as seeing the girl.

“She has been around for ages.” He said. “As long as man has sailed the sea. You think some pathetic beaurocrat or a TV news man will save us. We are trapped.”

“There has to be something we can do.” I pleaded.

“Yes. There is.” He said. Lifting his hand he pointed a trembling finger behind me.

I had been so engrossed in Mikhail’s words that I had not noticed the commotion going on around me. I turned and saw people crowding together. I realized that all eyes were on Georgy. There was panic in his voice as he screamed out in his native tongue. The rest of the crew had assumed docile, placating tones and began slowly mving towards him. I made my way through the crowd just in time to see him drag the knife across his throat. All the fear and trembling fled his body as he crumpled to the floor.

The shock coursed through us, and we all began to truly grasp the true hopelessness of our position, each of us coming terms with it in our own way. Alexi and Nergui by walking away for a moment of solitude. Rodion by weeping atop Georgy’s lifeless body. Ganzorig by screaming into the uncaring and all consuming fog. The rest us stood motionless like a rat in the talons of an eagle, utterly aware of the futility of struggle. Time moved on. Alexi and Nergui returned. Ganzorig went quiet. Rodion’s sobs became muffled whimpers. Once again, silence fell upon us. Once again, it was broken by the screaming.

“She comes.” Mikhail said.

The screaming was much like it was earlier, a chorus of suffering pressed into a single voice. This time, however, it was not a girl’s voice. It was Viktor. As he reached the side of the ship the bestial ululations slowly took on the shape of human language. The climbs and dives in pitch made translating everything he said impossible, but certain words: “death”, “kill”, “please”, “end”, and “mercy” made his message painfully clear. The crew fanned out to gather what they could to aid him, some people grabbing the rope that was still tied from earlier, others, like myself, sprinting to our quarters to collect some device or another. I grabbed my backpack and ran back onto the deck, fumbling through my collection of trinkets and essentials until I found the set of throwing knives I purchased in St. Petersburg. I ran to the railing and did my best to aim at my target, a body at once familiar yet at the same time so contorted in agony that it seemed entirely unknown. Most of my shots were wide off the mark, but even the few that weren’t proved just as useless. Every time something came close enough to potentially end his misery, he would be dragged under the water, only to emerge moments later.

My ammunition exhausted I watched as the rest of the crew fared similarly. Even Alexi, who had the foresight to tie his machete to one of the lengths of rope so he could retrieve it, eventually came to realize the futility of this game. When he realized his best chance was to try and sever the long tenticle hooked into Viktor’s back, the creature moved him fifteen feet or so further from the ship, enough to ensure a fatal loss of accuracy but not enough to deaden the screams. With all hope of releasing our friend from his suffering evaporated, our crosshairs turned towards easier targets. Rodion began raving, and within moments Kee Sye told me we were going to storm the bridge and turn the ship around by force.

As we crowded around the top of the stairs, we realized Vladislav and Zakhar had barricaded the door. Rodion, Ganzorig, and Nergui took turns ramming it with their shoulders, Wei ran off looking for an improvised battering ram, while Kee Sye and myself went to the deck to see if we climb up and talk to them through the forward window. Perched precariously on the small ledge running along the second floor window, we saw too wide eyed men who seemed on the brink of delirium. They were intently gazing at something out on the horizon, and when I had carefully twisted myself around I realized we were sailing directly towards a single point of light cutting through the fog in the distance.

“Don’t you see!” I yelled, with Kee Sye dutifully translating. “That is obviously a trap.”

A furious burst of Russian, followed by Kee Sye’s English rendition.

“We will be free. This nightmare will be over. There is lighthouse aheas, or a rescue ship no doubt.”

“She’s toying with us. This is all part of her mind game. For the love of God, don’t sail towards the light.”

“They will rescue us. They must have been sent when they heard our distress call.”

“For all we know our distress call never even went out. None of our equipment has worked since we’ve been stuck in this fucking fog.”

“They are coming to rescue us. You will see. You will thank me when this is over.”

This continued for some time. Eventually, we realized that there was nothing we could say to get through to them. We climbed down and walked over to where Mikhail had stayed, and layed down next to him, resigned to our fate.

Viktor’s screams began to die down, or else we were just too numb to notice them, as the light grew larger and larger. The continuous banging let us know that the efforts to break down the door had been just as pointless. I turned towards the sky, trying to see if I could get one last look at the late afternoon sun, but even this was foiled by the merciless fog. Somehow, I began to feel tired. My eyelide drifted closer and closed. I wondered how long it had been since I slept.

I was awakened by a roaring symphony of destruction; metal being cut apart, various componants of the ship clanging into each other, the death wail of engines. I didn’t realize I was in the air until I came crashing into the foreward railing. I looked up and saw hundreds of rocks towering over me. They were shaped like spikes, four feet in diameter at their widest, shooting out of the water at various angles, some of them stretching forty feet above me. I quickly realized that the ship was pinned in its mangled position by the vertical spikes, while the angular ones had gutted her insides. Blended into the clamor of the sinking ship were even more screams. It was not just Viktor this time. With panic radiating through my body I realized that not everyone was lucky enough to have been saved by the railing. I sat up, scanned my surroundings, and noticed that both Kee Sye and Mikhail were nearby, apparantly having hit the rail five to ten feet down from where my body had battered it.

As I sat up, I heard a commotion further down the ship. I watched as Vladislav and Zakhar sprinted out from the stairwell, and realized they were taking off towards the free fall life boat. I jumped up, called out for Kee Sye and Mikhail to follow, then took off towards the stern with the two of them close behind. I watched as another two figures emerged from the stairwell in pursuit of the captain; it was Wei and one of the Mongolians. They were about 50 feet ahead of us, and by the time we rounded the corner they were allready struggling with the Vladislav and Zakhar, who were now inside the craft. Nergui was at the doorway, attempting to both hold the door for the rest of us and stop Zakhar from engaging the drop switch. Wei was right behind him, jittering and trying to figure out if there was anything he could do. Rodion’s expression indicated he had just come to as he sprinted around the opposite side of the aft while struggling to draw comprehension out of the confusion. Wei yelled something and he came charging towards them just as Vladislav pulled Nergui into the life boat, slammed the door behind him, and pulled the release. It went flying, slamming into Rodion on its way into the water and dragging him into the ocean. By the time we got to the waters edge there was no sign they had ever been there.

We didn’t have any time to mourn their loss. Within moments of their departure, the ship let out a deep, creaking wail. We fanned out along the railings, trying to better assess the situation, but there wasn’t enough time. The Сумерки бегу had cracked about 30 feet aft of the center, and the deck was rapidly tilting backwards. As I cursed myself for not saving one of my knives, the remaining crew began shouting in Russian. Suddenly, Kee Sye yelled that some of the timber bundles were drifting out of the exposed stowage, and that if we hurried we might be able to make the jump. I took of towards the split, and realizing I wouldn’t have enough time to scope things out, used my remaining momentum to make a leap of faith into the abyss.

My knees were the first to connect with the hard wood, acting as a pivot for momentum to transfer towards my face, which cracked the timber when the two inevitably met. I spent the next few moments in a daze, oblivious to the chaos that surrounded me as I assessed the damage. My nose was badly broken, and one of my front teeth was hanging on by a thread. I mourned the loss of my first aid kit until I went to lay down and felt my backpack propping me up. I dug out the kit, stuffed some gauze into my nose, and then laid back and rested my eyes for a moment.

The remaining daylight was almost gone when I reopened them. With a slightly clearer mind, I began to seriously assess my situation. There was no sign of the ship, the rocks, or anything but endless water, though this was hardly surprising given the ever faithful fog. What did surprise me was that I thought I could hear voices in the distance, ones that were not wailing in agony but seemed to be talking. I yelled out, and heard both Kee Sye and Mikhail answer back. They were sharing a bundle raft, and seemed maybe fifty to a hundred yards away. Mikhail had broken his leg in the fall, and was seriously worried about it getting infected. Niether had any supplies, so they couldn’t even amputate if it came down to that. I told them that I had a first aid kit, but I wasn’t sure how I could get to them. Apparantly we were caught in a current and were heading in the same direction, but as far as they knew we were not getting any closer. All of a sudden I heard a voice yelling in Russian from the other direction. It seemed much closer than the others, and I quickly realized that it belonged to Alexi. After a few minutes talking to Kee Sye he began to slow down and enunciate clearly for my benefit.

He said that he was below deck when the ship crashed, and he climbed onto his bundle before the Сумерки бегу ripped apart. Apparantly, due to a pressing need to get as far from the collapsing ship as possible, he discovered that if you grabbed hold of planks of wood, kept your chest on the raft, and kicked with your legs at the edge of the water, you could propel yourself forward without falling into her clutches. I was naturally hesitant, and made no secret of this fact, but I began to hear a rhythmic splashing sound in the distance. I dug through my pack, found my flashlight, and shined it at the source of the noise. I saw another makeshift lifeboat emerge from the darkness with a man spread halfway between it and the water.

Mikhail had understood enough of what was happening that he began to plead for me to come as quickly as possible. Concern for my friend suppressed the last remnants of my fear, so I took off my pants and found a good spot on the raft with beams of timber that stuck out enough for me to grab hold. I gripped the wood, and as I went to stick my legs in an odd feeling I couldn’t quite identify struck me. I grabbed my flashlight and turned it to the ocean. The light glided across the inky water before finally stopping at a massive pair of bulging white eyes almost directly under me. They were each two feet long and about a foot below the water. Entirely white save two pill sized black dots, they slanted inwards, and rose trembling out of their sockets with wild excitement. I moved the light towards the raft, and at the exact place my feet were about to enter was a perfectly round, gaping mouth; its lips, stretched to the waters edge, were peeled back, revealing layers of jagged, hooked teeth that wound their way down the gaping chasm.

I reached into my pack, grabbed a nesting doll of Soviet leaders, and hurled it directly at the bulging eye. She let loose a high pitched, clicking cry and darted off, propelled by webs made out of hundreds of fan shaped fins connected to her upper body. As she passed I saw malformed breasts, swollen to the point that they were leaking out the blood that apparantly filled them, and hundreds of tenticles emanating from the base of her torso. Some ended with jagged hooks reminiscent of her teeth, others long straight spikes, some tapered into writhing, wormlike extensions. A few of them were buried into the backs of my former crewmates. I saw Zakhar flailing about with panic in his eyes as though he were perpetually drowning, his facial muscles allready beginning to stretch back beyond their normal limits. I lifted my head just in time to see Alexi’s pure white eyes meet my own. Without breaking his gaze or reacting in the slightest, he reached his hand into his mouth and ripped out his tongue whole, before being dragged back into the water.

The next few days were spent drifting in and out of delirium. The three bottles of water in my pack saved me from immediately succombing to dehydration, but did not save me from having to endure the endless screaming. Some came from her toys, and some came from Mikhail and Kee Sye. On the first day they pleaded with me to find some way of joining them, on the second they rained down curses on me for abandoning them, on the third they went silent. Early on I tried to reason with them, tell them there was nothing I could do, but when men stand at the brink of death reason begins to lose its power. After the third day I too was out of water. I laid there for what felt like ages, waiting for the merciful hand of death.

When I first heard the helicopter I chalked it up as another auditory hallucination. I didn’t fully accept its existence until I felt the warm hands of the rescue crew lifting me onto the stretcher. After I recovered some of my strength, I worked up the courage to ask them about Mikhail and Kee Sye. I didn’t hold out much hope for their survival, but I figured the least I could do was ensure they had a proper burial. When I asked, the copilot gave me an odd look, and when I inquired further he told me: “You were the only one. We checked all of the other wood piles and they were totally empty. No clothing. No waste. No sign that anyone had ever been there at all.”

Credit To – Snowblinded

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From Perth to Darwin: A Ghost Story

April 24, 2015 at 12:00 AM
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I’d been travelling around Australia for about eighteen months doing the usual things travellers do. Between partying and sightseeing I’d worked on chicken farms, picked fruit and worked in call centres. I’d originally gone with some friends but one by one they ran out of money or got homesick so I was the last. I met James about two months before my visa was due to end. I was staying in Perth in some shitty hostel and one day he moved in to the bunk above me. These hostels were full of colourful characters, some fun, some annoying but most were like me, away from home and doing something different. It wasn’t a very glamorous existence but it was fun and it was what it needed to be at that time.

We clicked immediately. James was unlike a lot of the guys you’d meet ravelling. He’d gone it alone and actually seemed like he was out in the world to actually grow and better himself. He wasn’t obsessed with getting drunk and trying to have sex with anything in a skirt like 99% of the guys I’d encountered. He was calm and easy-going and the type of person who would immediately put people at ease, with James around the hostel actually felt like a home. James had a few more months on his visa than I did but we agreed that we’d go home together and he’d move down to London. We wouldn’t live together straight away, he would find a house share and when the time was right we get a place together. Those were the kind of plans we were making before we set off on the road trip.

The idea was to drive from Perth up to Darwin, avoiding the main highways, where we’d fly out back to the UK. James had some crappy car that he’d brought while living in Queensland and claimed to have driven it across the outback more than once. We set off, a bit later than planned to due leaving drinks the night before but we had plenty of time. With three days for a two day journey, we planned on taking in some sights along the way. We were five hours out of Perth on some outback road when the car gave up on us. Neither of us knew much about mechanics but when your exhaust pipe is visible in the rear view mirror on the road behind you, it’s obvious that something is wrong. All we could do was wait for someone to pass by and give us a lift to the nearest town, which according to our map was a five hour walk across the outback. Though we had plenty of water and food, neither of us fancied that. We had no phones either; we’d given up the contracts as we were leaving the country. We probably should have walked. Hindsight is a bitch.

We waited for hours. When you come from the UK, especially London, and everything is on your doorstep you don’t have the sense of scale for dealing with a land mass of the size of the outback. As time went on and no vehicle appeared the opportunity for starting off on foot left us. It would be dark soon and attempting to cross the outback at night held less appeal than attempting it during the day. We sat in that crappy car for hours before he appeared in a dust storm of exhaust and sand.

When Jonno, that’s what he called himself, pulled up beside us we were hesitant. Jonno was a stereotype through and through. He was covered in grease, unkempt and spoke with a thick accent that seemed almost caricature. His pick-up truck looked fifty years old and the mangy dog sat in the passenger seat, quiet but looking at us like we were meat.
‘Looks like you could use a tow?’ he said.
‘Yeah, any chance we could get back to Perth?’ asked James.
‘Not heading that way mate, my ranch is about an hour north of here. You can rest up the night and I’ll take you to Wagga Notch in the morning. You can get the bus to Perth from there’.
‘Can we go north from Wagga Notch?’ I asked ‘we need to be in Darwin in two days’.
‘Yeah, there’s a few busses that go that way but you’ll need to change at Quietbrook. Might be a bit tight with the changes but I think two days is doable’.
James looked at me with concern. He leaned in.
‘I’m not sure about this, maybe we should wait for someone else? Just go back to Perth and get the train.’
Jonno heard what James had said.
‘I doubt there’ll be anyone on this road till morning, even then it’ll be the ranchers going up to Quietbrook. Look, you’re out here in the middle of nowhere, I really don’t want to leave you, I can tow you, no charge.’

We both a bad feeling about the situation, about Jonno, but what choice did we have.

We decided to leave the car where it was, we’d be getting the bus in the morning and Jonno said he’d come back for it in a few days. He dealt in scrap and could put it to good use. We sat in the back of the truck, we told Jonno we didn’t want to put him out but really neither of us were comfortable around him. We drove through the freezing outback as the sun set and the temperature dropped. I pulled on my Jacket and James put his arms around me to keep me warm. It helped a bit.

After an hour we reached the ranch. Jonno had told us he made his living dealing in scrap and towing broken down cars and his ranch consisted a wire fenced car park of abandoned, mostly derelict cars. Some were no more than rusted shells stacked on top of each other, some looking in relatively good conditions. It was lit by some low level flood lights which cast most the area in shadow. As Jonno unlocked the padlocked gate we took in the surroundings. Off in all directions, nothing was visible, just an endless dark desert where you couldn’t even tell where the dark sands met the sky. Turning back to the ranch I noticed a shack made of old wood and corrugated iron amongst the auto graveyard that must have been Jonno’s dwellings. It didn’t seem like any place anyone could live, let alone spend the night.

We had both seen the movie ‘wolf creek’ and maybe because of that we were immediately on edge. I was staring at the shack, imagining chains, hooks and torture devices while James scanned the surrounding area. He always was calm and level headed. We ground to a halt a hundred yards from the shack and Jonno got out of the truck. He was smiling. Dogs began to bark in the distance.
‘If you wait here a minute or two, I’ll lock up the girls. They don’t really like strangers.’
He walked off to the shack. The dog on the passenger seat remained, staring at us through the rear view window.
‘Fuck!’ James said ‘This is bad! Do you think we should just make a run for it?’
Even though I was having the exact same thoughts, I didn’t want to encourage James. I tried to steady my voice, to be the literal voice of reason.
‘No, you’re being ridiculous.’
‘No, I’m not’ James said as he got up from the truck. ‘People go missing from the outback all the time. Who actually knows we’re out here?’ I couldn’t really answer. The truth was no one knew where we were. Our families back in the UK only knew to expect us back in three days time. Our friends back at the Hostel would have forgotten us already.

James jumped off the truck and headed for the driver’s door. The dog in the passenger seat began to growl aggressively. I jumped off the back of the pick-up and followed James as he backed away from the truck and started heading to the numerous cars aligned within the ranch.
‘What are you doing?’ I asked.
‘Looking for a working car. Not all of his victims would have been breakdowns.’ I let out a nervous laugh.
‘If we can find a working car, we know he’s lying. We’ll offer him some money for it and get the hell out of here’. James said. He had checked several cars by this point and was heading towards a blue four door car. It stood out amongst the other wrecks, there was no rust or dented chrome like a car only ever driven to church on a Sunday, it was old but still new. James was sat in the car playing about with some exposed wiring.
‘This is the one, I can feel it’.
‘You’re not actually trying to hotwire it. Are you?’ I laughed. The engine started first time and the headlights lit up the surroundings. I stood in the glowing lights of the car, unable to see James now exiting the vehicle. He ran to the pick-up and grabbed ours bags and Jonno’s spare petrol canister from the back. At some point the howling and barking had started again from the shack. It grew louder as the shack door opened and Jonno emerged, shouting.

Before I knew what was happening, James was beside me in the blue car with the passenger door open, screaming at me to get in. I glanced up to see Jonno being overtaken by a pack of scary looking dogs. I jumped in to the car and slammed the door shut. As James drove away some of the dogs had made it to the car, their breath condensing on the windows before we overtook them and drove off into the quiet outback, the barking fading to nothing.

As some semblance of calm took over me I began to register the intensity on James’ face as we sped along the dark road. His jaw was clenched shut and his eyes were fixed on the road ahead. I tentatively reach for his shoulder. He flinched as I made contact and the car swerved slightly. He shot a look sideways and upon recognising me, seemed to relax immediately. All the tension in his body fell away and the car began to slow down.
‘What the hell are you doing? I asked ‘you just stole a car’.
‘We’ll be on a plane before he reports it, if he does report it anyway. You saw how many wrecks he had lined up there.’
‘Still, how do we even know that this thing will reach bloody Darwin?’ I asked.
‘We don’t, but it’s better than being butchered by some psycho in the outback.’
‘You’re the one acting like a fucking psycho’ I screamed ‘I can’t believe you’ve put us in this situation!’ I could see the tension crawl back over him, it made him almost unrecognisable. His fists clenched on the wheel and then his arms and shoulders tightened. He took a long, deep breath in an effort to remain calm but his jutting jaw and grinding teeth betrayed his true feeling. Though twitching lips he let some words slip.
‘If you’re so desperate to be raped and murdered then by all means I’ll stop and let you out’.
‘You’re a prick!’ I muttered. I climbed into the back seat, positioned myself for some sleep the best I could using my bag as a pillow and James’ jacket as a cover. Despite my anger at James and the adrenaline in my system, sleep took me and I slept soundly.

I was awoken by the collision and in those confused moments upon waking I forgot where we were. I sat up, looked out the window and saw James screaming and shaking just out in front of the car. I tried the handle on the rear door I was sleeping against but it came off in my hand. The opposite door wasn’t much better. James was now silent but stood trembling with his hand covering his face. I awkwardly climbed over to the front and exited from the driver’s door, left open from where James had fled. As I emerged from the car I saw a dent in the bonnet and glanced back at the road behind us. There was something in the road, maybe thirty meters back. At that point it was just a ‘thing’ with no discernible shape I could make out. I approached James slowly. As I got closer I could make out his muttering.
‘I killed her’ he said ‘the girl – I only shut my eyes for a second.’
I looked back to the mass in the road behind us. I backed away from James and walked towards the thing. I only had to take a few steps before I could make out what it actually was.

‘James! It was only a kangaroo’ I cried in relief ‘just some stupid, bloody kangaroo’
I was right next to it as James joined me. The poor thing was lying in the road at some awkward angle, its legs bent back under its body, a small trail of blood from its ear. James was still in shock from the collision and didn’t share my relief, I could still see him shaking.
‘It was a girl, a teenager. I was tired but I only shut my eyes for a second, I swear.’
‘It’s just a kangaroo’ I said.
‘It wasn’t. It was a girl, I looked her in the just before I hit her, she looked so sad.’
‘Look around you’ I said, ‘where would she had come from? Why would she have just standing there in the middle of the road?’
‘She was…’ James trailed off, he was confused and tired. We were both stood staring at the poor broken thing when it began to spasm. The kangaroo was still alive.

We both stumbled backwards, horrified by the weird jutting movements as the Kangaroo tried to get back on its feet. It moved like it was a broken puppet, being pulled up by tangled strings and a vindictive puppeteer. There was a silent horror to the violent jerking limbs, as if the laws of nature and physics didn’t now apply to this particular creature.
‘We can’t just leave it like this’ James said. He began walking up and down the side of the road, head down, searching. I crouched down beside the Kangaroo and looked in its eyes. The panicked movement had calmed down by this point and the animal merely twitched. A shadow cast over me and I heard James speak in a flat voice.
‘Out the way’ he said as I turned to see him holding a large rock above his head. I burst in to tears and ran to the car, sat myself in the driver’s seat and covered my ears. A few moments later James was standing at the window, his hand gesturing for his bag.
‘Can you pass me a bottle of water?’ he asked. I leant over and grabbed one from his bag. As I did so I could make out small dots of blood on his hand. He took it without a word and rinsed his hands. I heard the bottle hit the road as he tossed it over his shoulder. I adjusted the seat and mirror and turned to James as he got in the car.
‘You need to sleep’.
‘I saw her before’ he said.
‘The girl I hit, I saw her earlier – a few times in fact. Like, I’d be driving past an old sign post and there’d be some old banner or something hanging from it, but then, when I’d see it in the mirror behind us, it would be a girl, just standing there.’
‘James, you were clearly asleep at the wheel and dreaming. You’re in shock now, that’s why it all seems so real. It was just a kangaroo, you saw that right?’
‘Yeah’ he said.
James turned away from me, staring out at the endless desert. I started the car and drove.

If you’ve ever driven long distance you know how tedious that level of concentration can be. Driving through endless desert with nothing your own thoughts for company can cause all kinds of hallucinations. James slept I turned his words around and around in my head. In some dream like states you could easily mistake a Kangaroo for a person but there was something about James’ reaction that unsettled me. He knew he’d hit a wild animal, but at the same time he knew he had killed the girl. Both realities were real to him. I tried the radio but there was nothing but static. It either didn’t work or there was nothing broadcasting in range. James slept.

Two, maybe three hours passed before we had to stop to refuel. After taking a pee break I was getting the can of petrol out of the back seat when James woke up. He looked at me and then looked out the window.
‘I’m not too sure how to do this’ I said holding the can up to him ‘do you mind doing it?’
I was sat on the side of the road half way through a bag of crisps and warm can of coke as James refuelled.
‘I did see her’ he started ‘when you were asleep, I kept seeing that girl, at least I thought I did’.
He seemed more like his normal self so I let him continue.
‘And just now, I think I dreamed about her. I could see her face, it wasn’t anyone I knew or recognised though. She was weird looking, teenage features but an old face, like, really old – barely starting to decay. There was something else too, when I hit her… the kangaroo I mean, I remember, were you like, stroking the back of my neck?’
I looked up at James. He didn’t look back. He was just staring at the can in his hands.
‘I was asleep, it wasn’t me. It wasn’t anyone. You imagined it.’
‘Yeah, he said ‘you’re right. Maybe it was the petrol fumes eh?’ James pulled the can nozzle out of the refuelling jet and walked to the back of the car. He tried the boot but it wouldn’t budge. He took a step back and suddenly started kicking at it repeatedly and ferociously. He had turned from an introspective, gentle man in to an animal in that one split second. In the time I’d know him I’d never seen him like this. He was angry, kicking at the car in frustration.
‘James’ I shouted ‘I don’t think that’s going to help’.
James stared at the boot. He tried it again and it sprang open.
‘Take a look at this’ he said as he peered into the boot of the car.

I joined him and looked in to the boot. There was a back pack and a pair of hiking boots. I pulled out the pack and sat it on the side of the road. James sat inside the boot, legs hanging over the side, shading himself from the sun. I opened the pack and started pulling out the contents, jeans, T-shirts, pants, socks. It obviously belonged to a fellow traveller, some guy just like us. There were maps of Australia and book of collected poems by Sylvia Plath. Everything had a musty smell to it, like it had been sat in that car for years. I packed it all back up and noticed a pocket on the top of the pack. I found a digital camera inside, quite an old model; it was bulky and looked thoroughly used. I tried the power button and was surprised when it clicked itself on and whirred into life. The battery indicator flashed ‘LOW’ and I pressed the button to see the saved photos. A picture of a guy downing a can of beer flashed up. I scrolled sideways to see the same guy sat next to a woman by a pool, drunk and having fun. I scrolled further and the pictures of the couple by the pool gave way to pictures of the couple in the outback. I stopped at on picture which showed the woman sat in a car. I stood and walked around to the driver’s side, matched up the photo to what I could see in front of me. I scrolled to the next picture and saw the insides of the car, exactly the same as it was now. The next few pictures showed endless desert scenery and then one of the guy stood on a rocky outcropping. The final picture I saw before the battery died showed the woman sat in the driver’s seat, she looked sad. I tossed the camera on to the back seat and went back to the pack where James had started rummaging through it too. He casually tossed the contents on to the side of the road.
‘Useless’ he said as he kicked the bag away from the car. James tossed the petrol can in to the boot and slammed it shut.
‘I’ll drive’ he said.

We drove for hours in silence. We ate whatever food we had left and stopped to relieve ourselves all without saying a word to each other. We passed endless desert and a few abandoned road side shacks. With each passing shack James would watch it come towards us intently and then quickly double take as we drove passed it. He’d then look at it in the rear view mirror until it was out of sight. I remembered what he had said about the girl he kept seeing and wondered if he was seeing her now or just looking for her. We passed a truck hauling what looked like old caravans, worn down and derelict through holidays and recreation. There were a number of empty windows where a phantom girl could hide but James paid it little attention. A few minutes later James turned to me.
‘Did you happen to see who was in that truck we just passed?’
‘Truck? That one just now?’ I asked.
‘Did you though?’ he replied.
‘What do you mean?’
‘Did you see who was driving it?’ He asked.
‘No, why?’
‘No reason’.
We carried on driving in silence. I knew he had seen the girl in the truck’s cab; he was trying to ask me if I’d seen her too. There may well have been a girl in that truck but whatever James saw; it wasn’t what I would have seen. I climbed into the back seat and tried to assume my sleeping position. I’d drift in and out of sleep but between everything that had happened and James playing with the radio, there was no way I could rest. I tried to tell him that I’d already tried the radio but still, all he got was static. James eventually found something that was playing music; he managed to tune in just as ‘Goodbye Yellow Brick Road’ by ‘Elton John?’ started.

‘That’s nice’ James said in calm, soothing voice.
‘Yeah’ I replied through my half sleeping haze ‘I love this song’. I roused myself and sat up slightly, finding James face in the rear view mirror. His eyes met mine and then flitted sideways to the empty space directly behind him. Panic shot across his face. The car swerved one way and then back the other, brakes squealed and we spun out of control. We came screeching to a halt and James was out of the car before I could register what had happened. Elton john was singing about ‘boys too young to be singing blues’.
Clambering in to the front of the car and finally out on to the road I joined James about ten meters off in the dirt. He was just stood there in the sand facing away from the car, no movement and no emotion on his face.
‘What happened?’ I asked.
James screwed up his face as if trying to even comprehend the question caused him pain.
‘James’ I pleaded ‘tell me what wrong with you?’
He turned back to the car and then back to the desert expanse. He couldn’t bare to look at the car, even for a moment.
‘You…’ he started. I waited for him to finish but it was clear he wouldn’t, or couldn’t even. His face contorted again and his fists clenched.
‘Was it her again? I asked ‘did you see her?’
He immediately grabbed the back of his neck and started rubbing, scratching almost.
‘You thought I was stroking your neck again, right?’
He continued to rub the back of his neck, like he was trying to get rid of something clinging on there. I took his hand by the wrist and stopped him. I came up behind and put my arms around him. His arms covered mine and I leant in to kiss his neck. We stood there for a while.
‘It’s ok’ I said finally ‘you’re just tired. We’ve been on the road for almost twenty four hours and you’ve driven most of it. I’ll take over while you get some sleep. It’s not too bad in the back’.
He turned around to look at car, specifically the back seats. He shook his head and closed his eyes.
‘No, think I’ll just sleep up front with you’.

We got back in the car and Elton was singing about ‘mongrels who ain’t got a penny’. I turned the radio off so James could sleep and set off as the sun began to set.
I drove through the desert and through the night until the sun started to rise. I was glad for the extra light and the extra warmth. The drive had been a harrowing at times. I nearly nodded off to sleep on several occasions and narrowly missed several kangaroos leaping out in front of me. I went through cycles of freezing shivers and blistering sweats as I tried unsuccessfully to maintain the cars heating system. I had some terrifying pee breaks alone in the desert and witnessed the full majesty of an unpolluted star filled sky as I refuelled the car. James slept the entire time. It wasn’t sound sleep by any means. He writhed in the seat and would mumble nonexistent words at random intervals. It made me nervous, having him there right next to me, knowing that his dreams and thoughts were haunted by this girl. As the morning sun crept up over a mountain dead ahead of us the light made it impossible for me to continue, I’d lost my sunglasses the previous night. With my hunger and tiredness increasing I pulled over to the side of the road and tried unsuccessfully to stir James from his sleep. That man could sleep through anything.

I refuelled the car with the last of the petrol and then fished my back pack from the back seat of the car. I looked at the road map and I figured we had about another eight hours on the road and just about the right amount of petrol to get us to Darwin. I took my bag and sat in the shade behind the boot of the car. I took out my camping stove and some bottled water and cooked up some instant noodles for breakfast. James finally woke up and came to join me there. He was back to his old self, all the self doubt and terror had left him. We ate out noodles and then James surprised me with some chocolate biscuits. We washed them down with some warm cans of coke and James announced that he ‘needed a piss’. He stood up, stretched and wandered off a few meters from the car and stopped. I heard his zipper undo.
‘Further’ I shouted to him ‘I don’t want to see or hear you pissing’.

James walked some more, and I settled behind the side of the car with some toilet roll. I look up and down the road for oncoming vehicles, pulled down my shorts and pants and did my business there. I stood up and to see James still going. I walked around to the driver’s side, opened the door and sat with my legs out of the car. I leant back and tried the radio. It was still just the same static as before. I turned it off and saw James starting to head back towards me and the car. He was gazing out to the horizon, taking in all the sights but came to a sudden stop as he looked up to meet my gaze. He stood there and glanced from me to the ground and back to me again. A few moments passed and he repeated the motion, only this time he added a look of anguish. He turned on the stop and bent over, clutching his head with his hands. He straightened up and reluctantly looked at me again, only it wasn’t me he was looking at. It was the back seat of the car. I followed his gaze to the empty seats. I called out to him.
‘What’s wrong?’
‘Come over here’ he offered in response. His voice was somehow lacking conviction, like he was pretending there was nothing wrong.
‘What the fuck, James! We need to get back on the road, we got plenty of time but I don’t want to take any risks’. His hands began to tremble so he clenched his fists to stop them. He spoke in a put on calm, measured voice.
‘Please, just – just come over here with me’.
I got up and slammed the car door, every movement carefully choreographed to show my annoyance. I stomped over to about two meter from where James was standing.
‘What?’ I spat at him. James took a deep breath and exhaled slowly, he closed his eyes.
‘There’s someone sitting in the back seat of the car. It’s the girl, she’s been following me. She’s a ghost or something and for some reason you can’t see her. She’s there right now. She’s been… haunting me.’
I just stared at him as he stood, tense and closed off. I turned to the empty car, turned back to James. I was scared, terrified. Not because I thought there was a ghost in our car though, I was scared for James, scared for his mental state, scared about what he might do next, what he was capable of.

‘James’ I said ‘there’s no one there. The car’s empty. It’s just the two of us. Maybe it’s the heat out here, or maybe… you’re exhausted James, we both are. Please, come with me and I’ll drive us to Darwin and then we’ll go home.’ I tried to be as soothing as possible. James was now had sweat pouring off him. It was hot under the sun but this was something else. He was in a heightened state, running on his instincts and fear alone.
‘I thought that at first’ he said through clenched teeth ‘but she’s there, she’s touched me and I’ve felt her, she has mass and…and form … she’s real. I can’t get back in there with her… I just can’t’.
‘Then what are we going to do then? Abandon the car? Wait out here for someone to pick us up?’ I snapped.
‘Yes’. He said it like it was the only option.
‘Look James, I’m sorry… you just need to relax. I’ve got some valium for the flight, you can have some now and then I’ll drive, it’s only a few more hours to Darwin’. I motioned to touch his face and at the same time he violently swiped my arm away.
‘Don’t fucking touch me!’ he screamed.
I was almost knocked off my feet but managed to right myself mid-stumble.
‘You fucking prick! Don’t you dare ever do that again’ I screamed back at him.

I was furious. I turn around and began to walk away. I tried to calm myself, to think rationally. I put the pieces together in my head and formed an idea that made perfect sense at the time. I marched back towards James.
‘Is this some kind of trick to get rid of me?’ I yelled at him ‘pretend you’ve gone mental so I’ll have to break up with you? You’re pathetic!’ My expletives continued for a few more minutes. I accused him of having a girlfriend back in the UK and told him just how low this was. Told him that if he was a real man he would just admit it and then he could stop pretending. All he did was stare at the ground. His silence and refusal to respond made me angrier. I stormed back to the car got in and started the engine the way James had shown me to do it. I took what I thought was my final look at James.
‘Stay here then, you wanker!’ I literally slammed by foot on the accelerator. The car screeched off in a cloud of burnt rubber and sand and I set my sights on the horizon.

About a minute later I had calmed down. I stopped the car, reversed and drove back to James. He was sat on his knees in the sand where I’d left him, he’d just given up and let whatever horrors he had overwhelm him and crush him. I walked over to him and took him by the wrist. He started screaming, hoarse screams that came from somewhere else, not from the James I knew. He didn’t physically resist, just screamed ‘No’ continuously. I led him to the car; I think that maybe a part of him knew that this was the only option.
‘She’s doing it again’ he said through howls and tears as I sat him in the passenger seat. He was covering his head and leaning forward, as far away from the back seat as he could.
‘Leave me alone’ he screamed ‘just leave me alone, I didn’t do anything!’

By the time we’d pulled into the car park for Darwin international airport five hours later, James was silent. The inhuman howling and screaming had become crying which then became a whimper which then finally gave way to a blank silence. It was in this dulled state that I sat James down on a bench while I unpacked the car. I got our bags together and led James away from the car leaving the windows open and the inside exposed. I don’t know what happened to it, if Jonno ever reported it stolen or missing. It had served its purpose.

We were both exhausted and filthy and the checking in process was like a blur. James was somewhat unresponsive but managed to get through the security checks without concern. We had seats in different sections the plane and to be honest I was glad. I showed him to his seat and then found mine and downed a valium with a cold beer I’d got in the duty free. I half snoozed through the safety demonstrations but was fully asleep before the plane took off. Aside from some half recollected visits to the toilets I slept the whole way and I awoke as we began our descent in to London Heathrow.

I tried to find James as the plane emptied but he was gone. I pushed past everyone I had to trying and catch up with him but got stuck in a huge queue at immigration control. I made it though and found James waiting at Arrivals. He’d obviously got off the plane before me as he was waiting there in his still filthy state. He greeted me with a kiss on the cheek.

‘This is my mum’ he said pointing to a nice looking middle aged woman stood with a teenager ‘and my sister too, they’ve come to pick me up. I had no idea’.
James introduced me as his girlfriend and we made our introductions. We went for lunch where we told his mother and sister about how we met and about all the places we’d been and things we’d done. James was back to his normal self. We didn’t mention the drive from Perth to Darwin. James might have blocked the whole thing out judging by the way he was acting and I certainly didn’t want to think about it. It was done. There was no need to mention it.

James mother, Susan, kindly drove me to my own parent’s house in hackney where James met my parents. My dad invited James and his family to stay the night, we had plenty of room and they wanted to get to know James. I had written all about him in the many emails I’d sent them over the last few months. Susan said they would love to stay but were unable to as she had commitments the next day. They would have to drive back home that evening, soon if they wanted to be back at a reasonable hour.
‘I’ll call you tomorrow’ James told me as I waved him and his family off. I didn’t bother waiting for his call and I tried him constantly that evening and the next day. For some reason the number he’d given me wasn’t connected. I sent him messages on Facebook and via email. Days went by with no response, his Facebook account closed and emails started bouncing back. My parents told me to give him time, let him get in contact with me. Friends told me to just forget him, that he was an arsehole just after a holiday fling. They all have reasonable suggestions and reassured me there was no reason to worry, but none of them knew about the drive from Perth to Darwin

After some time it began to make some semblance sense, to me at least. The whole episode with the haunted car was a trick. He’d make me want nothing more to do with him or use his supposed breakdown as an excuse to end the relationship. Nothing else made sense to me or could explain his behaviour. I turned my sense or loss into anger and I tried to forget him, tried to move on and eventually I did.

I’d been back in the UK for about five months and was working in local bar when one evening someone put on the ‘greatest hits’ of Elton John. This wasn’t anything important until we hit ‘Goodbye Yellow Brick Road’ and I stopped in my tracks. I rushed to the toilet and started crying, part out of sadness and part out of anger. I relived the entire relationship and that entire drive over the course of that bastard three minute song. I went home that night and sat down at my laptop. I spent hours on Facebook trying to track down anyone who would’ve known James. I eventually remembered the name of his old school and managed to find his sister on one of its associated pages. Though her profile was closed to anyone who wasn’t a friend, I was able to send her a message with my phone number telling her get James to call me.

The next day my phone rang from an unknown number.
‘James?’ I answered hesitantly.
‘Hello? No, I’m afraid it’s me, Susan’ came the reply ‘is James not there?’
‘What?’ I asked. Susan started crying on the other end of the line. She asked if James was here, if I’d seen him recently, if she could talk to him. I told her what had happened, how he had completely cut me off, how I’d not seen or heard from him since they drove away the day we got back. Through her tears she told me what had happened on her end of this tragedy. James had pretended to still be in touch with me, pretended that he was going to come and live with me and my parents in London, and pretended that my dad had lined up a job for him the workshop. Three months earlier James left his mother’s house with all his things packed in a car he’d brought ago and they’d not heard from him since. I didn’t know what to say or what to do so I hung up. Susan immediately called back so I switched my phone off.

I ignored her calls for a few days until I had worked up the courage to talk to her. When I did, I told her about the road trip, about his breakdown. She listened carefully, told me how James was a bit different when he came home. How he’d lost some of his spark, as she put it.

We went about trying to find him, posting missing persons flyers in both cities, even getting his picture in to national paper. I rallied all our friends from Australia and James’ face is now all over Facebook and traveller websites, ‘missing: have you seen this man’. We had the police try and track his car, bank transactions and passport. There only so much they can do though, after all, he’s an adult and can do what he likes.

Nothing has worked so far. It’s like he has fallen off the face of the Earth. I don’t know what really happened to him in that car but I’m certain his disappearance is something to do with it, that bastard car and that cursed drive from Perth to Darwin.

Credit To – Danbell

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The New Arcade In Town

April 22, 2015 at 12:00 AM
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The New Arcade In Town
Isaac Cook

This is the first time I’ve told anyone this story, and it may be the last, because they’ve found me.

The year was 1994. I was a 15 year old who lived in a small town mainly dominated by church goers and elderly couples who didn’t get along, so there was never much to do. The only things that captured my attention were video games. They were pretty basic at the time, but my family wasn’t well off enough to purchase such a luxury as a home gaming system. It was the middle of summer when talk started to spread of a penny arcade moving into the building where the old video tape store was. My friend and I…we’ll call him Terry, were beyond excited, seeing as it was a much more economically friendly option for us (and our parents) to get a chance to play a videogame, straight out of my gaming magazines! The posters all around town, all bright and playful, detailed that the arcade was to open sunday at 9 AM, which was incredibly convenient, because Terry and I had already planned a sleepover that saturday night.

I brought my magazines to Terry’s because his mom wasn’t willing to spend money on “gimmicks like that”. We stayed up into the early hours of the morning, flipping through them over and over, until we had drilled every game made to date into our heads.
Eventually we both passed out on the floor, lights on, magazines out, and minds full of wonder.

I awoke to the sound of Terry’s mom leaving for her weekly church service, looked to the wall and read the clock; 8:06 AM. Wanting to get there early so we could be first in line, I woke Terry and told him to get ready. We both took showers, changed out of yesterday’s attire and into something more fresh, and snagged some change that Terry’s mom had left for us on the kitchen counter. Before we ran out the door, I looked at the clock; 8:47 AM.

It took us about 10 minutes to walk there. When we approached the line up at the door, there were only a handful of people there. No kids our age, just some older social rejects who had nothing better to do. We jumped into line to secure our spot as the fourth and fifth people to enter the arcade. We cupped our eyes against the arcade front window to block our eyes from the sun, and what we saw blew our 15 year old minds. Rows and rows of arcade games.

Something caught my eye, though- two large double doors with the writing “The Virtual Reality Experience!”. To hear those words virtual and reality in the same sentence back then made absolutely no sense to me, so it intrigued us to the point of making it at the top of our agenda for what to do at 9 o’clock when the doors opened.

The arcade games sprung to life in a fantastic display of lights and colour, and the doors opened. A bald man with a scar on the side of his head walked out, and gestured to the small lineup that we could now enter. As I walked past him, he gave me a blank stare that gave me an extremely uneasy feeling. We continued through the doors and into the fantastic space full of lights and sounds that excited Terry and I even more.

Without saying a word, we ran to the large double doors and pushed them open. They were surprisingly light, and we both stumbled into the room. There was a bald woman with a scar on her head standing next to a table with multiple bulky circular gadgets on it. We both stood up straight, slightly embarrassed, and proceeded towards her. She held out her left hand, and silently pointed to the paper on the table with her right. Two quarters per player for the most immersive gaming experience in this day and age! Fight off the alien race that is attacking the moon base! You are its only hope!

Terry took out his mom’s coins and handed over one dollar in change to the bald woman. She blankly took the money and grabbed one of the bulky circular gadgets on the table, gesturing for us to do so as well. We both grabbed one and watched as she placed it on her head, surrounding it like a helmet. We went to do the same but she gestured for us not to. She went through a side door and came back with two Star Wars blaster looking devices. Terry and I excitedly snagged them from her hands and examined them in awe. They were surprisingly heavy. The woman pressed a button and a thick metal door slid open. She walked through it and we followed attentively. Walking down a flight of stairs, we came to a long, narrow hallway, which led to even more stairs.

We came into an incredibly large room. Other than a black and red striped door on the other side of it, the walls of the entire room were covered in an opaque glass-like substance. Terry and I shot each other excited glances and proceeded to the middle of the room. The woman helped us equip the helmets and blasters. We couldn’t see anything. Thinking this was some sort of joke, I was about to take off my helmet, when the it came to life.

The screen inside the helmet lit up and I looked around to see a totally different place than the strange room before. We were on the moon, outside a building with Canadian flags on it. I looked towards Terry and he was in an astronaut suit, bearing the same blaster as before. I heard a screech ring out through my helmet that made Terry and I jump. Sound on the moon? Ah, well. It was a video game, after all. We turned toward the origin of the horrible sound, to see what I can only describe as a true monster. It was lanky and crawled on four legs. My first thought was that its face was made up of only two deep black holes, presumed to be eyes. It looked sickly and injured as it moved toward the two of us. Its face opened up to form a mouth that bore rows of razor sharp teeth. It paused its advance, and stood up on its hind legs, exposing claws that looked as if they could slice through human flesh like butter. It lunged towards me with surprising speed.

I froze. Time felt slow as I watched the monster gracefully soar through the air towards me, mouth open and claws outstretched. It was suddenly violently knocked to one side as a rod of red fire blew a chunk out of its torso and sent it flying. I looked to Terry, and saw his barrel smoking. This brief moment of surprise was interrupted by more shrieks from other monsters arising in the distance. Shaken up from almost losing the game in the its first moments, it took me a second to understand the situation. Protect the space station, kill monsters, stay alive… easy enough. A burst of adrenaline hit me as the monsters came into view over the craters and hills. There were at least twenty, and they weren’t crawling like the last one, but rather running toward us on two legs, spastically waving their claws around, every limb on their body seemingly twitching every second or two. Without hesitation, Terry and I started to use our weapons against them. They got about ten metres away before the last one collapsed to the ground, motionless.

More monstrous screams came from behind, nearly upon us. Too many to specifically say. Terry and I began to fire uncontrollably into the mob of creatures as they stampeded toward us. Terry was firing at the ones in front of me, as was I. I realized too late that Terry’s actions were foolish, as monsters poured onto him, covering him from view. He screamed in pain. Firing wildly into the crowd of creatures, I managed to take down enough of them that they started to back up, realizing that I was a threat. They crawled back over the hills and craters, revealing Terry’s body, motionless, on the ground. I had stared at him for a minute or so, contemplating what to, when I much deeper, groggy, shriek echoed through the air.

I turned to see a creature, larger than the others, slowly striding on two legs across the lunar surface toward me. Its claws were noticeably longer, and its teeth were curled inwards. I switched my focus from Terry to the monster, and just as I did, it stopped advancing on me. It turned to the right and started walking towards the horizon. It stopped, lifted up its nightmarish claw, and slashed into nothing, but as it did this, what I can only describe as a rip in the air formed. It kept striking until the rip turned into a hole.

It disappeared into the hole. I stood there, confused. I heard screams, both from humans and ruined electronics. For a split second, the message “ERROR:00001\POWERREMOVED” was displayed in front of me. Then, everything went dark.

I waited a few moments before taking off my helmet, and saw what I can only describe as absolute carnage. Creatures with chunks blown out of them were scattered everywhere across the large room, surrounded by pools of yellow ooze. I looked to my feet to see Terry laying on the ground with various lacerations littering his body. Crouching down, I took off his helmet. He was dead.

The shock of my best friend’s death was interrupted by the walls opening and more monsters surging out. Instinctively, I raised the blaster and started firing. It worked just as well as it had in the game. Dropping them as they came out of the hole kept them at bay. Finally, they stopped coming. I stared at the gap in the wall. No more emerged from the darkness beyond the glass opening. I looked around the room, to notice that the black and red stripped door had been ripped down. Realizing that this was my only exit, I moved to it, and walked through the remains of the door.

I was now in some sort of control room. Bald male bodies were scattered across the room, with blood covering most of the floor. All the electronics in the room had been destroyed, all bearing huge claw marks. The silence of the room was interrupted by movement behind me. The largest of the creatures emerged from a dark hallway, hunched over to fit through the gap. Baring teeth and claws, it approached, with the same deep, groggy scream I had heard before. Without even questioning my actions, I pulled out the blaster and sprayed across the room at the horrifying creature. It cowered into the darkness from which it had come, and I heard it scamper down the hallways until the sound faded to nothing. I walked towards the darkness, blaster drawn, and was swallowed by it.

I felt my way through the black hallways and up staircases for what felt like an eternity, occasionally feeling long scratches in the walls left by the monster. Low growls and metallic bangs echoed through the unexplored corridors. My curiosity was cut short when I turned a corner to see light coming from a smashed window high above the floor. The wall and floor was littered with long scratch marks, yellow ooze and broken glass. I moved up the staircase to come into a small room filled with blasters and a slightly open door. Peeking through, I saw the woman who had directed Terry and me into this horrible mess. I burst through, aimed my blaster and held the trigger until she was unrecognizable, my mind numb with the pure rage of my best friend’s death. From nowhere, more bald men swarmed to the scene.

I stood there, with cuts, bruises, yellow ooze and blood covering my body, as they all blankly stared at me. Shoving through the crowd, I ran out of the Arcade, blaster in hand.

That was 21 years ago, and the bald scarred men have been pursuing me ever since. I often think about the time Terry and I spent in the game, how it could’ve played out so differently. If not for him, we both would have died in that horrible place. I’ve tried telling others, but I gave up long ago, for everyone thinks I’m mad.

I went out west to the coast but it doesn’t matter how far I go, they always seem to catch up to me. I see them walking on the streets, in restaurants, even on TV. I swear one of them looks like Terry. Sometimes at night I hear the shrieks of that monster in the distance. I fear that my time may be short. As I write this, there is a bald, scarred man sitting under the light of a bus stop across the street, blankly staring at my house. I can hear scratching noises at my back door, accompanied by the occasional low groggy moan.

I’m going to die here.

Credit To – Isaac Cook and John Cook

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They Can Hear You

April 15, 2015 at 12:00 AM
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Eleven P.M., Monday.
“And that’s pretty much the gist of it, you got all that down?”
In the mental notebook that was locked deep within Greg’s concentration, he did manage to get it all down. His first night on the shift was going to be a smooth one if he had anything to say about it. Greg wasn’t too pleased with the gig, but if it meant getting paid during the time where his college loans had just become his worst debt collector than he wasn’t going to screw this up.
Greg Cassidy, a young fletching twenty-three year old anxiously waiting for his chance to prove his worth Having graduated from college only four months ago with a bachelor’s in accounting, Greg had hoped his proving would immediately come in the form of filling out people’s taxes or heading his own firm. Some might have called him determined; others might have simply called him an idiot. But after multiple denied applications and the sheer financial weight of student loans, Greg couldn’t afford to wait around for his big chance.
And so here he was, getting trained on how to operate the graveyard shift in the most ironic of places, a graveyard. After looking through the help wanted section of the paper and finding the night shift at the local grave yard was likely his best bet (due to simplicity and his minimal knowledge in fixing pipes), he applied and got called back within two days. Plus the pay was pretty nice too, fifteen dollars an hour to play night watch for a bunch of corpses. At least it would be a nice money maker until he landed a real job in his field.
“Yes Sir Mr. Foreman,” Greg replied. “Got it all up here.”
Greg was sitting in the employee’s lounge across from the lumbering foreman. A beefy looking gentleman with a deep voice and a beard pulled straight out of Norse mythology. Greg had thought that the man looked right to be in a foreman’s position. If anything were to disturb his graveyard, he looked more than capable of dealing with it himself.
“Good to hear,” the foreman said. “Now you said your name first name was Greg, is that right Mr. Cassidy?”
“Yes sir,” Greg said.
“And how old are you Greg?”
“I’m twenty-three sir, fresh out of college no less.”
“Yeah, I noticed that on your resume. Well let me tell ya something Greg. I’m thirty-one, so cut the ‘sir’ shit. Makes me feel like I need to be in the ground out there with the dead. We go on a first name basis around here; helps lighten up the whole doom and gloom of working a graveyard if you catch my drift. While I may be in charge around here, think of me like one of your close friends and not your boss. And call me Crawford while you’re at it.”
Greg was aware of doom and gloom, he had read enough ghost stories in college to last him a lifetime. Some of it came from one of his elective courses in gothic horror during his junior year, but most came from a fascination with the arcane. The surge of adrenaline that came with being scared late at night while thinking there is something moving in the darkest corner of his bedroom was fun to Greg. For a brief moment Greg actually got excited for starting work tonight, he figured he would feel right at home.
“Sure thing Crawford,” Greg said.
“Good, than I guess that covers all the formalities. I’m going to call Jim back so that you could join him tonight on your watch. In the meantime get your gear from the storage locker in the next room. Once you got the stuff you’ll head out and start working. Remember everything that I told you and you’ll do fine. It’s a pretty simple job when the people you’re watching are dead.”
He gave Greg a pat on the shoulder and motioned for the door that lead to the storage room. As Greg went inside he could hear Crawford conversing over his walkie talkie, most likely to the guy named Jim that Greg would be spending the rest of the night with. Greg was met with a couple of shelves containing snacks and assorted cleaning supplies and a row of lockers along the wall. Greg’s locker was to the left of Jim’s whose locker hung slightly open revealing itself to be void of any contents. To the right of Jim’s was one belonging to a Ryan, and beyond that a final locker for an Ethan. The last two lockers were shut tight, giving Greg the notion that only he and Jim were going to be out on duty tonight. He was hoping that Jim had some experience in this line of work; not because Greg was frightened by working a graveyard at night, but because he didn’t want to be the new guy who messed something up on the first night.
Greg opened his locker accompanied by the creaking wail of the metal hinges of the door. Inside he found a long belt with multiple holsters hanging on a metal hook. On the top shelf he saw a flashlight, a single walkie talkie, a few double A batteries, and a folded map of the cemetery grounds. As he lifted the belt off the hook and lock it around his hips, he began to whistle to the tune of “Pop Goes the Weasel.”
Before he could finish the final notes, Crawford called out from the lounge.
“Hey Greg, is that you whistling in there?”
“Yeah it’s me,” Greg replied. “Sometimes I whistle to pass the time, been doing it since I was a kid.”
“I know I didn’t mention it before, but don’t do that while working your shift. Remember what I said about doom and gloom?”
“Helps lighten up the whole doom and gloom of working a graveyard…” he wasn’t too fond of the consideration of having to give up whistling while working on the job. For as long as Greg could remember, he always had a compulsive need to whistle. Odd as it may seem, not only did it help him ease boredom, but it also allowed him to think and focus when his mind wasn’t up to the task. He remembered many times in high school and college when he would get in trouble for whistling during an exam. He couldn’t comprehend not being allowed to whistle on the job; especially since he had a bachelor’s degree to prove whistling didn’t lead to total failure.
Still, Crawford had a point when attributing whistling to doom and gloom. Greg recalled a scene in Disney’s “The Legend of Sleepy Hallow” where Ichabod Crane whistled during his trek through the dark forest only to be hunted down later by the headless horsemen. Greg figured he could put his vocal chords on hiatus during work, even if he knew it wasn’t likely that the headless horseman would ride out and kill him if he did.
Once Greg had all his belongings holstered into his belt, he shut the locker door with a loud clang. It was then that he looked up on the inscription that was centered on the locker. He hadn’t noticed before, but behind the metal frame drilled into the door where the locker owner’s name would be placed was a small note card with his name scribbled in black sharpie. The other lockers had fancy etchings on their doors, small plaques that signified their own personal quarters. While he wasn’t upset he didn’t get the royal treatment, Greg figured that the brevity of time between now and being hired didn’t allow for Crawford to get a new name plague of his locker. He also deduced that from the creak in the door hinge the locker wasn’t placed their just for Greg, it had a previous owner.
Greg made his way back through the lounge and to the front door. He noticed Crawford sitting in a chair watching highlights from the football game with a freshly opened can of Bud Light in his left hand. Before Greg could turn the knob to head outside, curiosity over took him.
“Hey Crawford, was there another guy here before me?”
“Huh? Oh yeah, he had that locker before you. He left the job about two weeks ago, that’s why we put the help wanted ad in the paper.”
“Why’d he leave?”
Crawford took his gaze off the television, looked to Greg, and gave a smart assed smirk.
“Because he whistled too much. Now get out there and make sure those bodies don’t get out of bed.”


Eleven-Ten P.M., Monday

Jim’s consistent dragging of his cigarette gave him the effect of a dormant fire breathing dragon in the dark. He was leaning against the wall of the employee building when Greg stepped out into the night. Jim had a rather slim figure, but since Greg’s eyes had not yet adjusted to the darkness any other feature was too hard to decipher.
“Hey there, you must be Greg,” Jim said. “I’m Jim Shelton, Crawford just radioed in to come and get’cha.”
They shook hands in the shadows, bathed only in the dim light of the stars above.
“Hello Jim,” Greg said. “I’m really excited to start working here.”
“I see Crawford already told you about using first names, that’s good. I’m guessing he covered all the basics then.”
“Sure did. Everything from staying on the path to not developing relationships with the tenants.”
Jim gave an elusive chuckle. “You seem real chipper. Don’t be, this job is certainly easy but it’s also really fucking boring. After a few nights on duty you’ll be wishing some of these bodies would rise from the grave and do an Irish jig.”
Jim quietly attempted to clear his throat. Greg could never get behind smoking; he figured it would just lead to bad health and an untimely death. Greg wasn’t looking to make a bad impression however; he played along.
“Is it wrong to wish for the bodies rising out of their graves and dancing? I feel that would be a great story to tell the parents.”
“You can certainly wish for it, but I wouldn’t count on it. Now, let me show you around so you can get a feel for the place. Save your questions until we make it the whole way around the place. You should get a good enough feel for it all visually, just keep close.”
Jim flicked his cigarette bud into the neighboring grass and made his way down the left path. Greg followed close behind. It only took a few steps before they were truly in the subdivisions of the dead. On both sides were rows of tombstones, accented by a few hanging trees for an added spice of creepy. Unlike Greg’s normal picture of a movie graveyard, there was an absence of a low hanging fog or company of owl’s calling for the living to beware their surroundings. With no fog to impair his now adjusted vision, Greg noticed a single structure that sat behind the back rows of tombstones on the left; a mausoleum. It stood with quiet solace, crafted stone to honor the lucky (or simply rich) soul who now called it their tomb. Greg had hoped that when he would die, he would get the same treatment.
Eventually they made it the whole way around the grounds and back to the employees building. Jim lit another cigarette and offered one to Greg.
“No thanks,” Greg said. “Addiction runs in the family.” A lie to cover up his pure disdain for death on a stick.
“Fair enough,” Jim said through a cloud of smoke. “So got any questions? As you can tell it’s a pretty simple layout, and with the map that was in your locker you should have no problems getting back on track.”
“No questions really come to mind, but it sure is pretty quiet around here.”
“Well there’s not a lot of cheer going on around here, plus I’m sure you noticed this place is pretty isolated. Two miles to the nearest, well, anything. It’s nice most of the time, helps you think more easily.”
That’s exactly what Greg was trying to do. He didn’t want to look like the pious newbie who figured one pass through was enough to get him working the ground floor. Then again, maybe his lack of questions would make Jim think he had a good handle on the place and was ready to get cracking. He looked around quickly, and in the distance on top of the hill, he noticed the mausoleum in silent devotion.
“I wasn’t aware you had mausoleums here,” Greg said.
“Yeah we only build those when we have high paying customers, or at least close relatives of said customer. We have nine of them currently, and Crawford will put money into building more once the need arises. Some of them are pretty old considering this plot has been in Crawford’s family for five generations, but the first one we passed was actually finished only a few days ago.”
Greg didn’t know why, but the thought from earlier suddenly crept back in.
“Crawford said there was a guy before I came here.”
“Who, Matt?” Jim said. “He worked here for about a month or two, he looked a bit older than you but I can’t remember his age.”
“Why did he leave? This seems like a pretty easy well paid gig.”
“Well paid, that’s one of the reasons I still work here. I’m not really sure why he left. Crawford said he just barged into the employee building one night on his shift, left all his gear, and never came back. The monotony probably got to him.”
“Couldn’t have been more boring than being six feet under like all the others here.”
“That may be so, but you’ll come to find out that how boring this job can get. After all, boredom can kill a man. Let me give you one more round, just to be safe.”
They set off again, tracing the entire course of the plot until they eventually made it back to the employee building. It was then time for Greg and Jim to split up to cover more ground. It was official; Greg Cassidy began his job as a cemetery curator working the graveyard shift. The first three nights went off without a hitch.


Six A.M., Thursday

Greg closed his storage locker door with a loud thud and wondered as to why the lockers didn’t have any sort of locking system installed. He knew that none of his coworkers would likely steal any of his equipment from the unit, but Greg was never exposed to lockers that didn’t have some sort of protective measures to them. He also wasn’t usually prone to overanalyze the small things, but after three nights on his new job the frequency at which he thought about trivial things was severely amplified.
He walked out into the lounge where Crawford was at his desk fiddling with some drawers. His speed was enough to signify understanding within Greg’s psyche; Crawford was ready to go home too. Greg made his way over to the time clock on the opposite wall and punched out before striking conversation.
“You in a hurry Crawford?” Greg said.
“I can hear my bed calling me from here,” Crawford said with a chuckle. “What about you, have you adjust to the time differences yet?”
“First night was rough, but I think I’m slowly getting used to it.”
“By next week I’m sure you won’t even recall spending most of your waking hours while the sun is out. You’re on the fast track to become a night crawler like the rest of us.”
Greg laughed at the befitting title. Comprised of an ensemble of guys who didn’t have the patience or will to deal with daytime labor, the night crawlers were the night shift workers who Greg now found himself a semi-established member of. By now Greg had met the majority of them and was scheduled to work with the only member he had yet to meet on Monday. There was Jim, the chain smoker who he met the first night; Ethan, a slim figured man in his late thirties who seemed like a rather religious person due to the cross he always bore around his neck; and Crawford, the brandished leader who gave the orders rather than executed them. Ryan was the only one Greg had yet to meet, and if the versatility amongst the others was to hold up, Greg had no idea what to expect out of him.
“Speaking of night crawlers, did Ethan already head out?” Greg asked.
“Yeah, just about ten minutes ago. Told me he had to run some errands before heading back home.”
“He’s a nice guy. I noticed the cross hanging from the necklace he wears. Is he really religious?”
“He wasn’t always, only up until recently has he started wearing that. He reads the bible in here on his breaks so I suppose he takes it pretty seriously now.”
Greg was never much of a religious person. He always claimed that he enjoyed being centered in logic and reality when it came to the afterlife and higher orders. His love for horror and fiction however always made it hypocritical to claim that the edicts and laws of religion were completely ridiculous. Gods and monsters, to each his own.
“Well I’m going to head out,” Greg said. “Is there anything I could do for you before I go?”
“No don’t sweat it,” Crawford said, “you already punched out anyway. Just make sure to close the main gate behind you when you exit. Ethan should have already taken care of the locks when he left so it should just be a simple effort of pushing and pulling on your part.”
“Alright then, see ya Sunday night.”
“See ya then, have a good morning.”
Greg gave a slight smirk as he closed the door behind him and walked outside. Greg knew Crawford had a sense of humor, but he always seemed to be the most chipper when the sun came up. Greg figured it was because the arrival of the sun meant night shift was over, and therefore allowed Crawford to leave. Greg knew in time he would start feeling the same way about seeing the sun come up. Whereas before the sun meant waking up to go to class, now it meant leaving work and going home to rest; it would take some getting used to.
The employee building was only a few paces from the main gate where Greg’s car and the parking lot lie beyond. He pushed the metal gates open as they swayed outward with lumbering force, and once Greg was on the other side he pushed them back to their closed position. As he wiped his hands off from the residue left from the aged metal, he noticed the locks Crawford had mentioned before Greg left; not one, but three. They were gold plated with large chains that coiled around the bars of the gate’s right door. They looked as though they could stop a stampede from breaking through if necessary, but Greg knew panicked groups of wildlife didn’t usually run through this part of the country, or any part for that matter.
“Well Crawford sure likes to take more precaution with his front door than his lockers,” Greg said amusingly.
And with that Greg turned from the gate, made his way towards his car, and drove off down the road with locks and doors swirling through his mind.


One A.M., Friday

Jim walked into the employee’s building with a heavy sigh as he wiped the dirt off his boots against the ragged floor mat. Crawford was in his usual spot, sitting at his deck observing a mound of paperwork that didn’t seem to be getting any smaller. His eyes were not deterred from their present course.
“Is it one o’clock already?” Crawford said behind his stack of papers. “I swear signing papers makes time fly by.”
“I’ve been working for you for four years Crawford,” Jim said. “I never knew you to be a good liar and your sarcasm hasn’t gotten better with age. Besides, if you find paper work so boring I’ll gladly take your comfy desk work while you go out and babysit a bunch of corpses.”
They both shared a laugh as Jim made his way to the coffee maker.
“Sorry about your luck Jim,” Crawford said. “But someone’s got to do it.”
“Isn’t that the truth,” Jim said as he poured a cup of coffee. “But right now is my break, and Ryan has all the weight on his shoulders right now holding down the fort.”
“Not too bad out there tonight?”
“Same as always… dead.”
Silenced ensued as Jim sat down at the lunch table towards the center of the room with coffee mug in hand. The only sound that filled the air between them was Crawford’s pen fervently scratching against his papers. He knew Crawford wasn’t fond of having noise present while he did paperwork, but after working three hours in total silence Jim was yearning for some audible accompaniment to relax his tension. Crawford’s paperwork could wait.
“So the new guy is off tonight?” Jim said. “Greg is it?”
“Yeah,” Crawford replied. “He has tonight and the weekends off. That’s liable to change of course, but I figured I’d start him off with something he’s used to.”
“Used to?”
“Having weekends off, like a normal job.”
“Well I certainly agree this job is anything but normal.”
Crawford gave a dismissing grunt and continued with his work. Jim took a few short sips of his coffee. The pungent taste always kept him moving through his shift, even if Crawford wasn’t a master at brewing the perfect blend. He was glad Crawford actually dished out the money to get an actual coffee maker rather than small packets of powder that had to be mixed with hot water. The powder would never fully dissolve and always leave behind little chunks that would float in the liquid. It would give the effect that Jim had specs of dirt in his coffee; it would constantly remind him of his job.
“You think he’ll last here long?” Jim said.
“I think he’ll do fine,” Crawford replied. “So long as he sticks to the general guide lines he’ll find this job to be quite rewarding.”
Jim hung his coffee mug in front of his mouth before taking another sip. Someone else had just crept back into Jim’s mind; the welcome mat wasn’t out to greet him.
“Just like Matt did?”
Crawford’s pen halted its present course, the tension in the air becoming a smoke screen of deceit. Crawford looked up to meet Jim for the first time since he entered the building.
“And here I thought we agreed not to bring him up again,” Crawford said.
“I assumed you were going to tell the kid about our little issue we have here.”
“There’s nothing to tell so long as he sticks to the rules.”
“I’m pretty sure Matt knew the rules well enough and look what happened to him.”
“He stepped out of line Jim, plain and simple.”
“What’s to say Greg won’t flub up and do the same? He knows Matt was here before him and-”
“You told him about Matt?!”
“No, not yet at least. I lied to him on his first night so that he would ease his way into working here, I told him Matt barged in here one night and quit on the spot. But he can’t fully assimilate into the job if you keep putting a curtain up between him and the truth.”
“Are you questioning my authority to run the show around here Jim?”
“No, sir, I’m just questioning why we’re keeping Greg in the dark.”
Crawford tossed his pen onto the desk and leaned back in his chair. The expression on his face gave that of someone who was playfully amused, but Jim knew all too well that deep down Crawford was anything but pleased.
“What good will the truth do him Jim, hmm? Even if I did tell him, how do you think he would react?”
“At least he would have it in the back of his mind in case it does happen. Do you realize how easy it is around here for everything to go to shit in a matter of seconds? You know as well as I do that our job can get boring really quick, and when you get bored you’ll try to find any way to pass the time. If Greg isn’t carefully aware of what can happen here… well, it’s like I told him on his first night; boredom can kill a man.”
Crawford’s expression retreated from amusement into sullen remorse as he turned slightly in his chair. Jim garnered from the change in expressions that he struck a chord within Crawford, allowing him to see the error of his ways. Crawford’s recollection was enough to make Jim tremble with fear.
“On Greg’s first night, after I instructed him on the job, he went back into the storage room to grab his gear. I remember I was sitting here when he went back, I was probably doing more paper signing or something. After a minute or two of silence, I began to hear whistling coming from the storage room, ‘Pop goes the weasel’ or something close to that.” Crawford gave a slight laugh under his breath. “I’ve never been so terrified in my life. You know how Matt liked to whistle a lot, he would sit there during breaks and work his wind pipe till it ran dry. When the noise came I had forgotten that Greg was still in the building, so when I heard the sound I thought that… Matt, he had come back… and that…”
Crawford shook his head in woeful disbelief. Jim understood Crawford’s feelings; he had expected to run into Matt again multiple times before. Matt was a good kid and a fine worker, but it wasn’t in Jim’s best interest to have a chance meeting with his former co-worker. It wasn’t in anyone’s interest at all.
“I can relate to you Crawford,” Jim said. “I’m scared to see Matt again just as much as you are. And had I been in your shoes during that moment, I probably would have wet myself. But that’s why you should realize more than anyone why it’s important to tell Greg the truth. We either tell him the easy way, or he figures it out the hard way.”
For a moment Jim thought Crawford would drop his ever present barriers and actually succumb to rational thought. He expected Crawford, just this once, to realize what was at stake for not only Greg but the entire team who worked the night shifts. Jim gave a disappointed sigh when he realized he had expected too much
“I feel for the kid Jim, he’s young and bound to make mistakes. But he’s also an adult, and one who’s able to understand the workings of the world that have been presented to him for over twenty years. This cemetery has been in my family’s care for five generations, it’s basically a part of my lineage. I fear for the kid, I really do, but I’m not going to lose this place over him. Telling him the facts would just sully our reputation in his eyes. We’ll keep holding it off until something actually happens. If we were to tell him about Matt he would think we were playing some sort of prank on him. That we were confusing dreams with reality, or that we were going insane.”
Jim looked into his mug to find only a gulp of his coffee remained. He examined the latent liquid with disgust. It resembled the color of dirt, finely packed and unwavering in solidarity. He poured the rest down the drain and rinsed the cup out in the sink.
“Well, maybe we are going insane. Little by little, night after night, until our sanity falls down into nothingness. I’ve stuck with you this long because I saw what can happen here, and I know how to avoid it. Ethan and Ryan know as well, and that’s the only reason they still stick around here. If you keep this kid in the dark any longer, one of these nights he’s going to be gone. And if that happens a second time, I might just hang up my curtain as well.”
Crawford looked onto Jim with a blank expression. The line between dreams and reality was thick, but even the brightest nights had a way of obscuring the borders, and make attempts at deciphering the signs all the more difficult.
“If you want to quit, I won’t stop you. Until then though, we keep what we know between ourselves, and if he tells me you’ve been telling him any weird stories about this place, I’ll tell him you’re just trying to spook him on the job. Now, I think your break just finished.”
Jim looked up to the clock along the wall.
“1:15 A.M.? I swear time flies when I’m arguing with you Crawford.”
Jim placed his empty mug on the counter and made his way for the door. With each step he felt as though Crawford was going to shoot him in the back, end his troubles before they had time to walk out the door. Once Jim opened the door and felt the cold wind brush against his body, he felt that a loud blast from behind was out of the question. With his head slightly turned back, he figured he would give Crawford one more piece of his mind before returning to duty.
“That knowledge only we know of might just kill that kid,” said Jim. “And I won’t be the one to take the blame for it… not again.”
With that Jim closed the door behind him, leaving Crawford alone with his thoughts and a large stack of paperwork he suddenly didn’t have the right mood to work on.
The moon was bright against the backdrop of vast stars and galaxies across the night. Jim could only look with perplexity as he wondered if anyone out there had the same problems as those who worked with him into the long hours of the night. Such a unique issue, did anyone else across the globe face the same as they had? His gaze was broken as he noticed Ethan come down the path out of the corner of his eye and make his way towards the building. He didn’t speak until they were inches apart.
“Your break over?” Ethan asked.
“Yeah,” Jim replied. “Me and Crawford got in a bit of a verbal tussle.”
“Oh yeah, what about?”
“Just over the new kid Greg and how he’s doing.”
“I’ve only worked with him two nights, but I think he’s settling in pretty well. Before we know it he’ll join us in the veterans circle, finally get an actual name plaque on his locker.”
“I certainly hope he makes it that far.”
There was a brief silence amid the two of them, the whistling of the wind filling the void between the loss of words. At least, they hoped it was the wind.
“I’m heading down the left,” Ethan said. “You want to cover the right?”
“Sure,” Jim said. “I’ll see ya around.”
They both began to tread down their respective paths, keeping their thoughts locked into the confines of their minds. Jim thought some more about Greg. He thought about Ethan being in on the “veteran knowledge” that he and Crawford knew as well. He wondered how Ethan felt about Greg not sharing in the knowledge the others knew. He thought about Crawford’s submissiveness, Ryan’s opinions, and Matt’s reasons for no longer being with them.
He thought long, and noticed the field of gravestones that rested quietly to the right of the path. He didn’t dare speak any of it aloud.


Two A.M., Friday

Greg sat on his couch as a slave to the frequencies, flipping through channels looking for a broadcast pot of gold. It was late at night and Greg was still wide awake, he had gotten used to it. His adjustment to the life style of night shift workers came much quicker than expected, but after three days of work he figured he was in full swing.
It wasn’t all so bad for him. The first two days were hard as he had trouble sleeping while the sun was out and eating breakfast when he would have normally been eating dinner. But even his appetite seemed to adjust rather quickly, and once he had it down he found that he took to the change like he had been doing it for years. He figured his previous college years might have helped him out some. Greg had gone to plenty of parties in his four year tenure at college, and he knew what it meant to stay up all night and sleep all day. He was just glad he wouldn’t have to juggle the job along with college classes; he was long passed that possibility.
There was also the dissipation of little to no cars out on the roads at night. Greg had always considered his town was full of idiot drivers. So when night fell and the day jobbers went to rest, he and the other sparse few who owned the night took to the roads with miniscule hindrance during commute. Unfortunate that half his trip to work was occupied by the single road that drove out to the isolated cemetery, he wouldn’t mind driving a longer distance if it meant enjoying the midnight rides that much more.
The change had its downsides though. For one most locations around town wouldn’t open until ten A.M. or later. This meant that when Greg would get off at six in the morning, the only places he could go were back to his studio apartment or twenty-four hour breakfast joints. That was something he hadn’t yet adjusted to, breakfast at dinner time (or vice versa) just didn’t seem right.
Another disadvantage was late night television. To those who normally sleep through the night it may seem rather submissive, but for those who have time off and are adjusted to night schedules, the television becomes a crutch of displeasure. Every channel either had hour long infomercials or sappy shows that only insomniacs could find enjoyment out of in their intrepid states. Greg began to wish for the old days when TV stations would sign off, play the national anthem, and then cut to a long drone of static. At least it would give him an excuse to go do something else.
But sacrifices had to be made in order to work his current position, and at the end of the day (or rather night) Greg was able to accept his current place in life. The job paid well and was easy enough. Sure it could get boring at times, and the night life was abysmal in comparison to the hustle and bustle of the day, but Greg wasn’t one to be picky. If he was, he would still be a college grad searching for his big break within his field of study, and that would mean no money was coming in. Acceptable losses; surprisingly they didn’t teach that in business school.
Greg continued to flip channels until he eventually hit a winner. Showing in its original unaltered state was George Romero’s “Night of the Living Dead.” While it was made way before he was even born, Greg had seen the film multiple times before and retained the knowledge to know that it was a bonafide horror classic. As he watched the makeup zombies sluggishly eat the flesh of their victim’s bones in black and white filtration, he couldn’t help but see right through the façade of “movie magic.” Granted, 1968 wasn’t anywhere near the technological prowess of 2015, but he still didn’t find any of the scenes truly fear inducing. And at this point in Hollywood cinema, Greg figured zombies had been severely overdone to death. He chuckled lightly at his own comedic prowess.
He needed something new and fresh to shake up the zombie genre, something to separate the future from the works of the past. Fictitious brain dead corpses stalking prey like cumbersome lions in the savannah just wasn’t cutting it for Greg’s definition of true horror.
But that’s all it was to him; fictitious.


One-Thirty A.M., Monday

Greg thought that must’ve been the twelfth time he passed that mausoleum tonight. Or maybe it was the eleventh; it wouldn’t be out of the question to say Greg possibly lost count.
For the past three hours Greg had been caught in the androgynous process of nightly routine. Walk around your designated route, make sure the grounds are kept, and keep an eye out for anything out of the ordinary. That’s exactly what Greg was hoping for, something out of the ordinary. At least it would make this pass more exciting than the last eleven; or twelve.
After the three nights last week Greg knew the layout of the cemetery pretty well and could find his way around with little to no problems whatsoever. He knew that currently he was standing in the North West portion of the land, mostly due to the slight elevation by being situated on a large bulbous hill. He was also aware of his position because he was near the mausoleum he commented to Jim about on his first night. This section was the newest addition to the cemetery and therefore contained the newest offerings that willingly fed the ground. He figured that at this point Ryan, who was working as well this night, would be due somewhere between East and South East of the general plot of land. Sure enough, off in the distance Greg could see Ryan’s flashlight peering around like an oppressive ray against those who would attempt to invade his space.
Greg met and started working with Ryan earlier in the night. Ryan had a muscular stature to the same effect as Crawford minus the Viking beard. Greg almost mistook them for brothers when he first laid eyes on Ryan, but Crawford was quick to kill that rumor where it conceived. Ryan was in his early forties and was the oldest of the night watch composition. Greg found Ryan’s age to be comforting when he was working with him; older age, more experience.
The guys also claimed Ryan to be a bit of a funny guy, one who liked to play pranks and joke around with the others. Greg didn’t seem to find much of the jokester in their first meeting, but he did find his advice for those who worked into the long hours of the night particularly on point: “Find a way to pass the time or else you’ll want to dig a hole for yourself and join the others.”
It was similar advice to what Jim had told him his first night on the job. Walking in circles at night while watching mounds of dirt and stone tablets had an easy time becoming dull after a while. Ryan’s advice on passing the time was singing entire albums in your head, but Greg wasn’t much of a musical guy and he knew they didn’t play albums on the Top 40. Jim’s advice was more succinct: “Find a hobby that involves a lot of thinking. Writing, problem solving, whatever. Find a subject and then think about it all night while you work. Before you know it the sun will be coming up over the horizon and it’ll be time to go home.” At times Greg would start writing mock ledgers in his head and start balancing budgets while he walked the paths over and over again. But even his number skills proved to be too stale at times, and he would begin to notice that only an hour had gone by in his seven hour shift. At least he had nights leading into Fridays and the weekends off; it was something to look forward to once the sun finally came up.
Greg took his eyes off Ryan’s light from the distance and did a 180 to face the woods a few yards behind him. Since this was the newest section of the cemetery, it was the closest portion against the neighboring woods and the closest thing to bountiful life in the fifteen acres that made up the current layout. Greg knew however that the trees were destined to meet the same end as the thousands of corpses that called this place their ultimate home. When there wasn’t enough room for more bodies, Crawford would issue an order to make more room. Crawford had no problems cutting down the woods to make more room for the continuous number of bodies that were coming in monthly. Greg wondered how the trees felt about such actions against their kind. He wondered if the trees were simply waiting for the next lumber crew to come in so that they may come to life and kill every human in their site. Oaks killing humans over the land where both their kind had been laid to rest; poetic justice.
Greg shook the thought from his head as he thought he saw a shadow move in the tree line. He pointed his flashlight beam in the direction of the movement, only to reveal a hanging branch swaying in the wind. He gave a sigh of disappointment at the revelation. Not only because he was duped by a strong gust of wind against a tree branch (they really were out to get him), but moreover because he found that he really wanted something excited to happen. He had hoped he would shine his beam of light over to find some masked lunatic holding a decapitated head, breathing heavily through a mutilated Halloween mask that had clearly run out its usefulness by now. A twisted fantasy, a fun game; anything to break the boredom.
Greg looked back across the east to find Ryan had moved slightly further down the path and into faded view. He figured stopping for a minute or two wouldn’t be noticeable when he crossed paths with Ethan later down the path. He turned his focus to a single line of graves that made their way down the hill in perfect formation, the unmoving march of the dead. He never took the time to actually read any of the grave stones in his multiple walkthroughs. When combining the darkness, thousands of other stones, and trying to keep your sanity from nose diving into the abyss, he couldn’t really blame himself for not noticing them before. He figured now would be a more perfect time than ever to enjoy the handiwork that helped roll in his paycheck every night.
Eeny, meeny, miny, MO!
Greg stopped his flashlight upon two graves paired closely together, oddly close together in fact. He moved in closer to get a better look. They were two marble slabs only six inches apart from each other, the left one being slightly larger than the right. Greg fixed his light on the first stone and then moved to the second.
Clara Davidson, born February 19th, 1986. Died May 10th, 2015.
Sydney Davidson, born October 3rd, 2007. Died May 10th, 2015.
It was always hard for Greg to fathom people, especially children, dying at such a young age. He remembered at the age of fifteen when his parents told him his twelve year old cousin had just died in a car crash. It was the first close death Greg had ever experienced, and it was enough to turn his world upside down. To cope with someone you know no longer being alive is a hard thing, turning that someone into someone you had a close relationship with can be earth shattering. Greg knew death all too well; he did work in a graveyard after all.
He gave a long whistle of astonishment before speaking. It singed his throat with depression.
“You sure died young kid, and it was only two months ago when it happened? I’m sorry you won’t be able to experience a full life, but sometimes life just happens to be unfair to the best of us. At least you died with your mother… but there’s no grave for the father. How did you two die? Hmph, this job has driven me to beg questions from corpses in order to pass the time. Not like you can tell me anyway.”
Just then, Greg heard a faint whistle ring out to the left of him. He quickly shot up and shone his flashlight in the direction of the noise. There was nothing to see but more grave stones, the lone mausoleum, and the tree line in the distance. He looked to his right and across the field to see Ryan’s flashlight faintly extend over the hill. Greg figured that the wind passing through the trees was the cause of the sound.
Ryan is too far away for me to hear him from this distance and I suppose the wind right now is strong enough to create whistling noises. At least I got that scare I was hoping for tonight.
Greg made his way back onto the path with a slight smirk. He pictured someone off in the tree line whistling from the shadows attempting to draw him in, a modern day siren that would lead Greg to his untimely demise. The gruesome deaths he played out in his mind once he would be lured in were beyond a PG-13 rated level.
Greg gave a slight shudder at the thought, and though he didn’t notice it, the ground under Sydney Davidson’s grave did the same.


Eleven P.M., Tuesday

Greg began to rummage through the supplies in his storage locker when he heard the door behind him pushed open. He turned his head slightly to see Jim walk through the door way into the room. The stench of cigarettes followed in his wake.
“I didn’t know you were working tonight,” Greg said.
“Yeah well, Ryan is sick tonight and someone had to cover for him,” Jim replied as he swung his locker door open. “I imagine you could have handled tonight by yourself, but it doesn’t hurt to have help.”
Handled tonight by yourself, Greg appreciated the comment. It had only been a week and a half since he had started work here and already the more experienced members were throwing comments of admiration his way. He was starting to truly feel established among the others, an expert at pacing laps around a plot of land and keeping watch late into the night. If anything, it was enough to make him look forward to working his shift.
“I wouldn’t be one to call you wrong Jim, but I don’t think I’m quite the expert on the caretaker game yet. Maybe in another month or two I’ll be on that high a level.”
“You’ve been doing well so far, and you’re only looking to improve from here on out. Just make sure you’re ready for any sort of pop quiz Crawford might throw your way.”
“Like what? Like how the lamp post between the fifth mausoleum and the eastern road flickers on and off? Or that he only likes International Delight coffee cream in his mugs?”
Jim gave a hearty laugh at Greg’s observations.
“Color me impressed. With that kind of knowledge at your disposal you could probably ace any sort of question Crawford could send your way. It seems we have a modern day Alex Trebek on the team.”
“And I can do the theme pretty well too.”
Without a second of comprehension or doubt, Greg began to whistle the first few notes of the Jeopardy theme aloud in the storage room. He had forgotten how good it felt to whistle, to clear his pipes and bring out simple tunes to calm the nerves. It wasn’t until a few seconds later that he noticed the expression on Jim’s face and recalled one of the golden rules of the job.
“S-sorry,” Greg said. “Doom and gloom, I almost forgot.”
Jim was unwavering in his stance. With his eyes wide and gaze fixed he stared forward into his locker as though he had found himself staring into the jaws of a hungry tiger. Greg was questioning what he did to make Jim freeze in place. He didn’t expect that Jim had any bad memories when it came to Jeopardy. Maybe he was a contestant once and managed to go negative before final jeopardy occurred, maybe it was family matters. Greg didn’t know what to think, and he felt that it was business he would be better off not treading into. Greg erased the thought, gathered his stuff, and shut his locker with a mild push.
“I’ll uh, see you out there Jim.”
Jim didn’t move. The same stare persisted as it gazed in on the confines of the locker’s interior. Greg figured it best just to leave him alone until he snapped out of it. He turned and made his way for the door, but before he could, Jim called out to him.
“Greg,” Jim said in a solemn voice. “Before you go, I just want you to know that…”
“Yes…” Greg replied. “Know what?”
Jim thought back to what Crawford had told him during his break a few nights before. Would Greg really think him an idiot, or that he would be pulling a prank on him? Would he believe something so outlandish and unbelievable? Would he…
“You’re doing well,” Jim said as he snapped out of his daze. “Don’t do anything to mess it up. I’m not trying to be stern towards you, but I don’t want to see you leave so soon. Matt, the guy before you, he didn’t stick around long after being hired. Let’s just… let’s just say I don’t want another Matt.”
Greg felt the comments to be a little conspicuous; something was odd about Jim’s tone and words. As Jim continued to grab his stuff, Greg figured he might as well accept the compliment rather than question Jim any further.
“Thanks,” Greg said. “I’m trying my best to make an impression around here. And sorry about whatever I did a few moments ago. It seemed to strike a chord with you. Anyway, see you around.”
Greg left the storage room with a hushed pace, and after a few seconds Jim heard the door leading outside shut with a thump. Jim slowly stared at the ground beneath him as he pushed his locker door closed. He stood there for a bit, still as thought he were rooted to the position by invisible vines. Others might have looked upon the ground Jim was standing on and figured he simply had some odd fascination with it. But for him, the image below along with Greg’s comments had terrified him to his core.
“It’s not what you did,” Jim said quietly, “it’s what this place did.”
And if this place had its way once again, Greg’s path towards becoming an “expert” would come to a grinding halt.


Three-Thirty A.M., Wednesday

Greg rounded around the bend of the path and made his way towards the North West section of the cemetery. It had to have been the twentieth time he had passed around the employee building, and the boredom of the shift was really starting to set in. He had already taken his break earlier in the night, so the only salvation Greg had left for escape was the glorious dawn of the sun over the horizon. He looked around to see if Jim was out somewhere across the fields, but his flashlight ray was nowhere to be found.
Probably just over the hill where I can’t see him, I’ll likely run into him somewhere further in. Greg heaved a heavy sigh as he continued up the path.
As he crossed another row of headstones, he began to replay the scene that transpired in the storage room earlier that night back into his head. What was it that affected Jim like that? Why did he seem so deterred? Greg didn’t have any clue then and still didn’t now, but guessing gave him something to do while he walked along the darkness. He began to recall that Jim was set off when Greg whistled the Jeopardy theme. Then, without hesitation or thought, Greg whistled a note through his lips before stopping himself from going any further.
He looked around quickly to see if anyone heard him, that Crawford might jump out behind a gravestone and give him a scolding. But all was silent and still, nothing moved except the lugs filling Greg’s chest with air. Greg felt a sense of relaxation and pleasure from the whistle. Whether it was simply working his pipes or the defiance of authority, it felt good. He did another double take around the area until, with a smile, spouted out another two notes. Then three, then four, he continued until he was laughing at his own enjoyment.
Doom and gloom eh? What is there to be worried about? There’s no problem to just a few little whistles. Besides, if it helps pass the time then I’m all for it.
He licked his lips and began to whistle the thirty notes of “Pop Goes the Weasel” aloud. As he did, he looked around cautiously once again to see if anyone was noticing. Once the final note escaped Greg’s lips, all fell silent again as though nothing had disturbed the solidarity. He gave a silent laugh towards his amusement and pressed on with warm vindication.
Up ahead he could see the mausoleum near the graves of the Davidson girls. He looked to his left and noticed the tree line where he was spooked by the branch a few nights before. He began to whistle the tune for a second time, this time slightly louder than the first. His song went uninterrupted, and the satisfaction kept pouring down in droves.
Greg had just passed the mausoleum when he began his third rendition of “Pop Goes the Weasel.” This time he figured he would slow it down a bit and make it louder so all the dead he was watching could enjoy the tune with him. He started up once again as though he was whistling to the heavens themselves, he didn’t care if Jim or anyone else would hear him, in that moment he was in his own. Greg finished the first twenty-five notes without pause, but before he could sound off the last five, something else finished the song for him.
“Shooo, shooo, shoo shoo, shoooo.”
Greg froze in place as his heart sank deeper into his chest. The eeriness of the notes sounded like a noise only capable of being created by the denizens of hell. The notes were long and held out; making the atmosphere around Greg seem even grimmer than it already established itself to be. As he regained some control of his body he slowly turned his head to see the mausoleum door being pushed from the inside out.
A single figure stood in the shadows of the door frame. From the distance it looked to Greg as though it was human, perhaps one of the guys simply playing a trick on him during his shift. He gave a sigh of relief as he spoke out to the shadows.
“Jim, Crawford? Is that you? You scared me pretty good just then, even though I think it was a bit over the top.”
The figure didn’t move, nor did it respond to Greg’s calls. Greg began t squint his eyes in an attempt to get a better look at the person in the door way. But once his eyes adjusted, he began to notice that he didn’t recognize the person smothered in the darkness before him. He looked across the rest of the figures body and noticed that it was missing a pretty obvious feature. Where the figures right arm should have been resting was completely void of any structure or familiarity. And then it spoke.
“Jim?” the figure said slowly. “I haven’t, seen him in, a while.”
It spoke in long croaked sighs, as though it was short on breath while having a knot in its throat. The voice was shrill and quiet but carried far enough to create goose bumps all over Greg’s body. From the voice Greg could tell it wasn’t Jim or Ryan, it wasn’t anybody from the night crew either. Reluctantly, Greg couldn’t compare the sound to anything human. This was something else entirely.
“I, heard you, whis-tle,” the figure said. “I used to, whistle, too when I, worked here. Th-at, was before, this.”
The figure slowly stepped out from the shadows inside the mausoleum into the dim light of the moon. The picture became clear as Greg witnessed the horrifying sight that began to creep towards him. It was human at some point in the past, but now it was twisted and deformed, dead-like in nature. Its skin was a dull grey; any form of coloration was washed out leaving behind a lifeless tone. Chunks of flesh hung off the figures body in clumps revealing the faded vermillion muscle underneath. And the absence of a right arm Greg noticed earlier was now clear; where the right shoulder should have been was replaced by crimson soaked cloth tattered from his shirt. This thing used to have an arm, but it was physically torn from its socket.
Greg was paralyzed by fear, rooted to the ground where he stood being forced to watch a twisted perversion of life and death not only move, but talk to him as well. What Greg would have passed off as an elaborate prank earlier now seemed all too real, though so unreal at the same time. With eyes wide and jaw a gap, Greg could only watch in horror as the figure made its way closer and closer.
“This is, what happ-ens when, you’re left here, to rot,” the figure said. “You, don’t die… you just, sleep. They bur-ied, me here. Thought it was, a moral ob-ligat-ion towards, me. I, hate them for, this. And if, you’re working, with them…”
The figure began to slowly trudge its way towards Greg. It moved with a twitchy limp, its limbs convulsing as though the body was readjusting from a prolonged sleep. With only the path separating the two of them, Greg gained the minimal strength needed to back away from the figure. But he couldn’t take his eyes off the thing that walked before him, the horror that lied ahead. Is this how Ichabod Crane felt before he was hunted down? He would have preferred the headless horseman over whatever this thing was.
“Didn’t Craw-ford and, the others tell, you not to be, loud during the, night,” the figure continued. “They told me, while I was here, before you took, my place. They can, hear you. WE can, hear you.”
Greg suddenly ran into an object with the back of his legs and toppled over it with a thud. When he raised himself from the ground he noticed he had backed right into Clara Davidson’s headstone. It was then that Greg began to notice the ground slowly pulsate under Clara’s headstone, making him back up on his hands until he sat up against another headstone. He sat there transfixed on the shifting dirt while the figure continued to slowly make its way towards Greg’s position. He figured it couldn’t get any worse. And that was when a pestilent ridden arm broke through the ground and dragged the rest of the body up through the dirt. From Clara Davidson’s grave crawled out a sickening woman with a twisted neck and gaze of death.
“Is that, you my dear?” the woman said. “I’ve mi-issed you, so much.”
Greg’s panting had become a shrill wheezing as he tried to make rational sense of the whole situation. But his mind was too dumbfounded, and all he could utter were a few simple words.
“What are you talking about?” Greg said between successions of heavy breathing. “I don’t know you; I don’t know either of you.”
By this point the first figure was almost to Greg’s new position while the woman crawled further forward. Greg began to wonder how and why the dead could rise up and move as though life was a familiarity. But more importantly, how was that they could actually speak.
“Of course, you know me, swee-tie,” the woman continued. “You were the, only one to sur-vive the crash, that day. We were, separated, but now we’re, back together. Sydney dear, your daddy is, here. Come see him.”
Under Sydney Davidson’s grave, the ground began to convulse until two small hands clawed their way out from under the dirt, bringing with them a small girl whose jaw was hanging on one end and had a large gash down her forehead. Her speech was a choking gargle due to her jaw being half disconnected, but Greg was able to faintly make out one word amongst the gibberish.
“Daddy?” It was enough to make him scream.
He rocketed up from the ground and made his way bounded his way onto the path where the lamp post gave him some solace from the nightmare around him. All around he began to see more people rise from their graves, sick and twisted forms rising from the dirt in droves. Most of them were fresh, but others seemed to carry death with more fealty than the rest. In his panic he could see five bodies sluggishly making their way towards him while four others were not much further behind. He could see Clara Davidson dragging her body across the ground while Matt kept up right by her side. And he could see Sydney Davidson inching her way closer and closer, arms outstretched as though she wanted a hug.
He backed away from the bodies only to be intercepted by more lumbering towards him. He looked in every direction as he was cut off by dozens of reanimated dead shuffling towards him. Those who weren’t already out of their graves were pushing through the dirt with grim purpose, awakened by the most malevolent of intentions. Fiction had come to life as Greg slowly saw the bodies he was paid to watch crawl and pace their way towards him. The lions were out of their cages, and they had the gazelle cornered.
And as the mob of corpses descended upon him like a plague of locust, Greg could only manage to scream as his body was slowly torn to pieces. It was the greatest scare of his life.


Three-Thirty-Five A.M, Wednesday

Jim was a quarter of the way towards the employee building on the eastern side of the cemetery when he heard the scream echo out across the area. He jumped from the burst of sound, startled by the sudden presence of noise in the quiet surroundings of the graveyard. He looked around quickly at the graves placed on both sides of the path, but nothing moved.
Still deterred by the noise, Jim fumbled for his walkie talkie and pressed the PTT button on its side. He spoke quietly into the voice box.
“Crawford, you there? Pick up.”
A few seconds later, Crawford’s voice spoke through.
“Jim? You know we don’t really use these things while you guys are out in the field.”
“Yeah yeah, I know but did you hear that noise just a second ago?”
“I have the radio on in here so I didn’t hear anything. What was it?”
“Sounded like a scream came up from the western hill. I think Greg was over there last time I checked. I don’t know if it was him or not but it might have set off some trouble up there. I’m towards the east and nothing has happened yet.”
“Alright, I’ll call Greg’s walkie and see-”
But before Crawford could finish another scream broke out from the west shortly followed by a constant flux of bloodcurdling anguish that rang out across the field. As Jim looked in the noises direction, he assumed the worst had come to fruition.
“Oh god, no.”
Jim began to hear the ground shift all around him in dozens of different spots. He shook out of his daze and began to sprint his way down the path toward the employee building. As he ran he saw as the hands and bodies of the dead creep their way out of their eternal rest and back into the land of the living. He could see them twist and jerk their bodies like puppets on a string. But worse of all, he could hear them speak their gasps of confusion. Some cried out for loved ones, others cried out for revenge. It was more than enough reason to make Jim increase his speed and run for his life.
He ran into the employee building door with full force as it swung open against his weight. Once inside he quickly turned to slam the door behind him, furiously clasping both locks into their positions. He heaved and puffed as he looked through the small window on the upper half of the door out into the darkness with terror. He became startled when a hand from behind clasped his shoulder.
“Get away from the door,” Crawford shouted. “Did they see you come in here?”
“I, I don’t know,” Jim said trying to catch his breath. “They’re all over, Jesus Christ every fucking one of them is out there and moving.”
“Did you see Greg anywhere?”
“No I didn’t see him at all. I, I think he was the one that screamed.”
Crawford gave a sigh of disappointment at the revelation. He quickly made his way behind his desk and pulled out a double barreled shotgun with a few boxes of ammunition from underneath. As he loaded in two shells, he called out to Jim in a hurried pace.
“The only way in here is through that door. The windows will be too high for them to get through. Go around and turn off all the lights, we’ll set up in here for the night until the sun comes up.”
“What about the window on the door, don’t you think they could break through that.”
“That’s why we turn the lights off. The front gates are locked up tight, so none of them are getting out. This building is fortified enough if we just hide and keep quiet.”
Jim gave a nod and rushed around the rooms flicking every switch he could. Once every light was out, he made his way back into the darkened lounge and crouched down into a corner near Crawford. They sat in the dark for ten minutes without saying a word. Crawford kept his gun close to his chest while Jim’s mind was on overload from the nightmare that had come to life once again. Outside, the calls of the dead rang out like a riot in a city square. Had it not been for all the commotion outside, the room was quiet enough to hear a pin needle drop.
“What time is it?” Jim whispered.
Crawford pressed the background light on his watch.
“Three-Fifty-Four,” Crawford replied. “The sun should come up around five-thirty, so we just have to stay in here until then.
Jim recalled back to the first time things went to shit like this. He was on duty with Ethan and Matt when the dead came pouring out of their graves. They had held up for the night in the employee building just as they were currently doing now. Once the sun came up, the dead just mindlessly wondered back into their graves. They couldn’t give any rationality to what had happened, but they knew if anyone found out about what transpired the cemetery would be shut down for good. That was enough reason for Crawford not to speak up, but it’s not like anyone would have believed them anyway. Live undead were a hot thing in the entertainment industry right now, but having them actually walk the earth? At least they survived the first encounter. Crawford, Ethan, and he had made it out alive. But Matt was…
Just then Jim’s thoughts were interrupted by a shrill noise coming from outside the door to the building. Crawford tensed up on his gun as they both kept a pressured gaze on the door. At first the sound was long and continuous, like a gust of wind. But then it broke apart and formed rhythmic beats. From beyond the door, Jim and Crawford could hear “Pop Goes the Weasel” being whistled out in the darkness. On the final five notes, Matt’s decrepit face became clear in the window.
Both Jim and Crawford screamed at the sight before them, it was enough to draw the entire horde outside to their location.

Credit To – Mike Kane

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The Lonely Stars

April 9, 2015 at 12:00 AM
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NOTE: This pasta was submitted in dual forms: text and video. I’ve embedded the video below – if it’s not displaying for you, please click the link below the embed space to visit the video’s page on YouTube.

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The Lonely Stars ~ By Shadowswimmer77 ~ Sir Ayme

“Houston, come in. This is UN Space Station Libra. Come in, Houston.”

No reply, just like every other time. I throw the receiver in disgust, the weightless environment causing it to float mockingly in front of my face at the end of its retention strap. I’m bathed in the soft red glow of emergency lights that serve to illuminate every inch of my tiny cell. I take a deep breath to calm my nerves before returning to fiddle at the maintenance panel. I’ve been in here for two weeks now.

Libra was designed as the successor to the International Space Station. Typically there is a minimum two crew on board at any one time. I was supposed to be out of here three weeks ago with the British and Chinese astronauts who came up with me, but unfortunately the replacements had some mechanical complications, and then nasty weather delayed the Moscow launch another week. Even so, they should have been here days ago.

–“You sure you’ll be all right up here by yourself, mate?”

–“Sure. Somebody’s gotta keep the lights on. Besides, the Russkies will be here soon. Just have a drink for me when you get landside, yeah?”

–“I expect I’ll have two. Godspeed.”

I was ready to spend seven to ten days by myself on the station, waiting for the Russians to get their act together and get me my ride home. I’d done some time in an isolation chamber during my training, so I knew how to handle being stuck in a confined space with myself; the trick is to not listen to the voices. The station itself isn’t roomy, but it has five different modular compartments, more than enough space for one person to not feel enclosed. Even better, every module except for the emergency cell has specially reinforced portholes giving magnificent views of the earth far below. It was photos of this breathtaking panorama that had first driven me into the NASA program almost twenty years ago, so what better way to spend a week then by gazing at the world in all its glory? Since our planned experiments were complete, other than basic maintenance that’s exactly what I spent the first several days doing. I could lose myself for hours watching the blue water and brown land fly by underneath, the sun rising and setting every time I completed an orbit. Then came the event.

Five days into my lonely vigil I’d been roughly woken by a blaring alarm; Houston was trying to reach me, and they needed me now.

–“What’s going on, Houston?”

–“Weird readings, Libra. Satellites register some sort of anomaly we’re just now picking up. Don’t know if it’s solar flares, some kind of field left behind by a passing comet, or something else. We’ll be moving into the area within the hour. There’s no telling how the systems are going to respond. Better button up in the emergency cell until we’re through”

–“How long will that be?”

–“Don’t know…we’ll be in touch.”

It was good advice. Alarms started sounding almost exactly sixty minutes later and abruptly whole sections of the station’s instrument panels started shutting down. I was able to keep track of everything that was going on from the master controls in the emergency cell, so I knew exactly when power to the station completely cut out. There was a tense five to ten seconds before the emergency batteries kicked in. Then with a soft whine, they powered up the red lights I’d been basking in ever since.

I pause my work at the maintenance panel. For the thousandth time I take out the photo of my wife and daughter. They’re both smiling, holding each other close.

–Are you going to space again, daddy?

–Yes, honey, but not for too long this time.

–I don’t want you to go.

–Don’t worry, I’ll be back before you know it.

The emergency batteries are designed to provide minimum function, pretty much just life support and basic communications. Theoretically they’ll last long enough that I’ll have to be more concerned with running out of food and recycled water before worrying if they’re going to run dry. But I’m blind and deaf in here. The communications are rudimentary, designed to run on almost no power, so it’s small wonder I haven’t been able to reach Houston. I have to do something. I can’t even see outside since the emergency cell was designed specifically without any kind of view port. The walls are starting to close in, and in a cell this small there’s not much room to shrink. At least the voices haven’t started yet. Like I said, the trick is to avoid them, but in here there’s nowhere to run, nothing to distract my mind.

The main system is powered by exterior solar panels. The system had been tested and retested to automatically restart in the event of a catastrophic failure, but when it actually counted, something stopped the reset. After a day or two, I decided to take matters into my own hands and popped the cover of the maintenance panel. After two weeks I’ve gotten exactly zero response for my efforts.

As I put the photo of my family back in my pocket, the fear and unfairness of it all momentarily get the better of me. Dammit, I was supposed to be home weeks ago! In frustration I hit the panel as hard as I can with my open hand. Amazingly, that does the trick.

With a click and a whir, the red lights shift to white and the instrument panels begin powering up to their fully operational state. Ecstatic, I throw myself across the cell to the communication array.

“Houston, Houston, come in. This is space station Libra.”

I try the line for twenty minutes. Still no response. What the hell is going on? A gnawing pit is growing in the base of my stomach. While the system was down, I could make excuses for the radio silence, use them to keep the panicky feeling to a dull roar. But now…

I have to get out of this stupid cell. I may not be able to talk to the people down there, but at least I can watch them. If I imagine hard enough maybe I’ll see my little girl, looking to the sky to see if she can spy the station as it passes overhead. I unseal the airlock and move to the next module. I chuckle to myself; maybe I’ll be able to see my replacements’ shuttle. I peer through the view port. Then, frantically, I move from module to module looking through each porthole in turn, the pit growing deeper with each passing moment.

–She doesn’t want you to go.

–She’s a kid. Of course she doesn’t want me to go.

–I don’t want you to go either.

–I know. But?

–But I know you will anyway. And I won’t stop you.

–I love you, babe.

–I love you too.


–…and forever.

It takes the station’s computer two hours to identify our position. Finally it finds enough known stars to triangulate where we are; exactly where we should be, two weeks after the last measurements were taken. The rest of the universe, though, is a little off, ahead of itself by about fifteen hundred years. In my gut, I’d already known that though. I’d known when I looked through the view port and didn’t see the big, beautiful earth shining below me, just the dark, empty blackness of space filled by only a few, lonely stars. In that moment everything became clear. I knew I could never go back.

Credit To – Shadowswimmer77

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To Mend What Was Broken

April 4, 2015 at 12:00 AM
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Edith Fenn-Blake knew that she could only find the house at night. Rumors around the village insisted that the very structure itself moved with the travelling moon, careful never to linger in one place lest the rays of sunrise should touch its thatched roof and burn it down. She also knew that it would be in the shadiest, most remote part of the marshy woods to the west of the village, where not even candlelight could shine properly. The being that lived inside was said to love such darkness, the kind thick enough to slide down one’s throat and strangle.

It would be a lie to say that Edith wasn’t afraid. She had been walking through dense, shadowed swampland for nearly an hour, listening to the unsettling sounds of crickets, frogs, and the swishes of alligator tails dipping below the murky black water. Her lantern had dimmed to nothing despite the fact that she had just refilled it upon venturing out, and now the moon was her only source of light, the feeblest sheet of gray in perpetual dark. Still, she pressed on through the sticky muck and prickly cattails, choosing to believe the rumors that those who sought the witch’s house would always make it there alive as long as they had a deal to make with her. Edith clutched her own deal tightly to her chest, feeling it ooze thickly through the burlap bag she carried it in.

She knew she was close when the heavy, green smells of the marshlands changed to the startling and far more unpleasant stink of rotting meat. It hung so copiously on the air that Edith could have sworn that what little fog she could see had a blood-red tint to it. Holding her breath, she trudged forward through the sludge, hearing the sounds of swamp creatures grow fainter until only her own splashes reached her ears. Even the crickets refused to sing.

At last, she caught a glimpse of light in the dense darkness. Like a will-o’-the-wisp, it seemed to hover on the air like a disembodied candle flame, flickering an ominous red. The closer she drew, the more of its surroundings appeared in her night-accustomed eyes. The crimson flame did indeed sit upon a plain white candle, which melted softly into a black candlestick placed on the windowsill of a simple, decrepit, weatherworn hut. It sat in a water-filled clearing at an angle that did not appear structurally sound, its side weighed down by a crawling mass of dark ivy and spiny pink bromeliad flowers. The dew that dripped from their leaves gleamed like blood in the red candlelight.

Standing at the edge of the clearing, Edith found it very difficult to breathe. It truly felt like the oily darkness was trying to slip down her throat and choke the life from her. The air itself tasted like offal. She could not turn back now, however. After the deed she had done to get herself out this far in the marsh, it would be pointless and unforgivable to retreat out of fear. So, steeling herself, she crossed the congealed moat, sinking in right up to her waist at its deepest point. Small, fast-swimming creatures in the water brushed by her ankles, and Edith could not help but think of alligators. No, she believed the rumors – no harm would come to her as long as she had her deal in hand. Shivering, she raised the bag protectively over her head and walked without pause until she had made it to the crooked front door of the witch’s house. With her skirt soaked heavily in pond slime and her feet still sunken in it, she raised a trembling hand and, as per the rules, knocked on the door six times in pairs.

Knock-knock, knock-knock, knock-knock.

Almost immediately, there came an answer from behind the door.

“Yes, come in, Eedie, dearie. I’ve been expecting you. Come in and tell old Nana what you wish for.”

The voice might have sounded like that of a cheery old woman had it not been for the churning, clogged gurgle and the deep, lionlike echo that hide in the undertones of each sickly sweet word. There was a small click, and the door slowly swung inward through the ankle-high water that spilled into the lopsided hut.

Edith was sorely tempted to run back into the dark and jagged trees, which suddenly seemed far more preferable to what lay inside, but the rumors reminded her what would happen if she backed out. She could still see the bodies – or the shredded pieces of them – that they pulled from the river not a day ago. Grasping her bag like a good-luck charm, she crossed the watery threshold into the witch’s house.

The smell was even worse inside, and Edith could plainly seen why. The field-dressed corpses of squirrels, foxes, and what might have been a large dog hung by their tails from the beams crossing the thatched roof, their fluids consistently drip-drip-dripping into the water. Tanned pelts, mounted antlers, and animals skulls of many species decorated the walls, often sporting odd objects like feathers, tiny gems, or hooks full of teeth around their edges. Shelves sat crookedly on the tilted walls, carrying a few books with unreadable titles, tools made of rock and bone, and jars full of thick, opaque liquid. Sometimes one of these jars floated past Edith’s ankles, and she thought she saw some decayed body part or fetus-like animal submerged inside.

Treading carefully, Edith approached a doorway covered by a veil of strings as thin as spider silk and adorned with decayed yellow fingernails instead of beads. From behind, that unnerving voice boomed again.

“Yes, yes, come right in, Eedie, my dear. Don’t be afraid. Nana won’t bite.”

The chilling little laugh that followed made Edith pause, but she shook off her reluctance and pushed her way through the veil, grimacing as she felt all the chipped and moldy little nails graze her skin.

The sight she beheld in the next room would have been enough to drive the sanest man into the darkest lunacy imaginable.

The witch sat at the end of the small room, possibly in a chair, though it was difficult to tell for sure given the water level and her enormous girth. Everything below her head seemed nothing more than a wad of moist, writhing flesh, colored scarlet in the candlelight and marred with boils, bulging veins, and crawling black beetles. Her arms were thin and bony like twigs stuck in her massive, slug-like body. Edith counted almost fifteen capillary-thin fingers per hand. The neck matched the arms in leanness, bending like a vulture’s and ending with a head the exact shape of an oversized potato. Her eyes were full black and beady, almost disappearing in the folds around them, and her mouth stretched quite literally from one ear to the other.

“Ah, Eedie, little child,” the witch said in an almost caring tone. “How wonderful to see you. I hope you are doing well. Oh, and my sincerest apologies about the mess. You know how finicky swamp waters can be during certain moon cycles.”

She laughed again, throwing her head back and widening her mouth to reveal a glistening, cavernous gullet behind rows of tiny, brown, triangular teeth.

Edith was struck silent at first, so horrified at this unthinkably grotesque creature seated before her. Then she swallowed, trying not to gag at the taste of the house going down her throat again, and forced out the words she had practiced on the way here.

“Th-th-thank you, ma’am,” she stammered, “f-for allowing me i-into your home.”

The witch lowered her head to face Edith again, her eyes nearly lost beneath her wrinkles when she smiled. “No trouble, my dear, no trouble at all. I love my visitors. I’ve been getting so many lately, wanting my help. It makes me feel so happy, you know? So loved… But enough about that. You have something you wish to ask of me, yes?” Her tiny eyes fell on the bag Edith had forgotten she was holding. It was only a little damp now, and it had stopped dripping.

“Y-yes, ma’am,” the woman stammered, wringing the loose burlap and cradling the lump at the bottom like a baby’s head. “I… I was t-told that… that you mend b-broken hearts.”

Though it seemed impossible, the witch grinned even wider. “I mend many broken things, my dear. Bones, minds, spirits… and, yes, I do mend hearts. They are my specialty as you can no doubt see.” She swept one of her bony arms around in a grandiose manner. Edith managed to pull her eyes away from the witch’s awful visage and focus instead on the wall behind her.

It was covered in dozens of human hearts. Dangling from strings pinned to the wood, they were all in various states of decay from freshly removed to nothing more than blackened, shriveled prunes. Some were laced up with little white stiches; some were driven through with long brown nails; some were filled to the brim with a liquid binder than had hardened into stone. All of them beat and pulsed silently on their strings as if they were cocoons about to hatch.

“But I am confused, Eedie, dear,” said the witch, startling Edith from her rapt study of the heart wall. “I sense no broken heart in you. You have a loving husband, your children adore you, and your friends treat you like a beloved sister. What could you possibly need me to mend?”

The woman gulped and gripped the bag more tightly, finding it difficult to look the hideous creature in the eye.

“It… it’s not m-my heart that needs mending,” she said. “It… it’s my daughter’s.”

A fold of skin above the witch’s left eye raised like an eyebrow. “Oh?”

Edith nodded quickly. “Y-yes, you see… She had a fiancé, a kind, generous man, or, at least, we thought he was… Anyway, th-they were to be married not a fortnight ago, but, at the ceremony… he was nowhere to be found. Nor was the dowry my husband was to give him in exchange for our daughter’s hand. It was… quite clear what had happened. He had stolen the gold and run off, leaving our daughter alone at the altar. As it is… she has not left her bed in nearly a week and refuses to eat anything we give her. This morning, she said that… she wanted to die, that she would… starve herself if she must, so terrible was it to live without the man she thought she loved. I… hated seeing her so miserable. I feared waking up one of these mornings to find my beautiful little girl… to find her…” She refused to say it. Sniffing deeply and blinking away her tears, she looked back at the witch. “I had to do something. I heard strange stories whispered around the village about a witch that could mend what was broken. I learned the methods it took to find her and the enormous risk it meant in getting there. I even saw what happened to the poor folks who… didn’t please her, supposedly. But it was the promise from others that she mended broken hearts that steeled my resolve. If anyone could save my daughter… it would be you. And, so, here I am, asking with all my soul… Please, please mend my daughter’s broken heart. Heal her and give her back the happiness she so deserves. Please.”

Edith stopped, winded from her emotional outpouring. She stared desperately at the witch, waiting for an answer. The creature stared back for a long moment. When she finally responded, it was after a long sigh and a slow shake of her malformed head.

“Ah, such compassion,” she said, “but so very misguided. My dearest Eedie, I’m sorry to tell you this, but I cannot mend your daughter’s heart.”

Edith’s stomach fell with a splash into the water around her ankles. “Wh-what? B-but I thought you- I thought you said-”

“I do mend broken hearts,” said the witch, “when they are presented to me by the owner of said heart. See how my children on the walls twitch and gasp for air? They were still alive when I held them in my loving, restorative hands. I cannot mend a secondhand heart like the one lying limp and rotting in that bag of yours. It is broken, yes, but it is also quite dead. Not even I can mend something back from dead, Eedie, dear.”

The rest of Edith’s organs tumbled from her body, leaving her cold and pale. “No, no, th-that’s not true. Mary, sh-she’s still alive, she was still alive when I-”

“Your daughter was dead the moment you split her chest open and ripped her unprepared heart from its cage.”

Edith was starting to shake, the damp bag in her hands growing heavier and slipping from her numb fingers. “But… but sh-she wouldn’t get up… she wouldn’t leave the bed… so I thought, if I did instead… if I brought it to you… th-then…”

The witch shook her head again and sighed. “I’m sorry, my sweet little Eedie. Some things cannot be fixed, especially when you have broken them beyond repair.”

There really was a splash as Edith dropped the bag into the water. It filled up quickly and sank down into the murky depths. As a misty red cloud and a few dark bubbles foamed up through the liquid, something small and burgundy floated to the surface, bobbing like an apple with a large chunk bitten out of it. Falling to her knees, Edith dipped her hands into the water and cradled the still heart, watching as tears rained down around it.

“Mary… oh, God, my Mary, my baby girl… what have I done… no, no, Mary, what have I done…”

“Oh, dearie,” said the witch. There was a rather loud sloshing as the dark water rippled out around her. To her great shock, Edith felt long bony arms wrap around her as the witch pulled her into an embrace. She stiffened against the creature’s vile body, feeling pustules burst onto her clothes and little insects scatter over her hair. “Don’t cry, my love, don’t be so sad,” cooed the witch, caressing Edith’s hair in a motherly way. “Do you hear that? That sound like a thousand mirrors shattering at once? That’s your heart, Eedie, dear; that’s your heart breaking.”

Edith forgot about the witch’s unwanted embrace and looked back at the dead heart in her hands. Each time she remembered her daughter’s face – her withered blue eyes, the circles that darkened them, the fear that filled them as her mother drove the knife into her chest – Edith felt another piece of her own heart fall off into an endless, black abyss.

“There, there, all is not lost, my child,” said the witch softly into her ear. “I mend broken hearts, remember? That means that I could mend yours… if you would like me to.”

Edith grew quiet, the heart tumbling from her shaky fingers and floating away in the stagnant water. Blinking her bloodshot eyes, she glanced up at the witch’s smiling face. “Y-you can?”

The witch nodded. “As good as new. You just have to say the word. What do you say, Eedie, my love? Would you like Nana to make it all better?”

Edith sat motionless in the cold, thick water, trembling in the witch’s revolting hug. Her entire being felt like one large point of pain on the face of a dark, desolate world. She could feel it moving inside her, growing and turning to rot, threatening to consume her until it would have been merciful to just dunk her head into the dark pool around her and drown. Was this how her daughter felt in those last few days? Was this how Edith was doomed to feel for the rest of her life? Could she go on living with such pain?

Finally, in a whisper choked with tears, she said, “Please. Fix it.”

The witch let out a deep, unnerving laugh and wrapped her arms more tightly around the stricken woman. “As you wish.”

Sudden pain erupted in Edith’s chest. She gasped, tasting hot copper, feeling it slide up her tongue and dribble down the middle of her chin. Quaking more violently than before, she slowly looked down and saw the witch’s long fingers buried beneath her left breast. They wriggled around in her flesh, pushing in until the entire hand had disappeared into Edith’s body, pouring a dark cascade of blood into the water. Edith felt the terrible fingers coil like centipedes around something inside her, something warm and beating. With a sharp, moist squelch, they tore it from her body.

Edith’s vision dimmed around the edges, and all the sounds in the world fell to a low ringing. She saw her own heart, writhing with life and torn right down the middle, held in front of her face, the witch’s insectile fingers gripping it mercilessly. Feeling terribly weak, she slumped from the witch’s embrace and leaned back against her foul body, popping cysts and squishing a few beetles against the fetid flesh.

“Now, now, just hang in there, Eedie, my dear,” said the witch from very far away. “Nana’s gonna fix it all better, I promise. Just keep those pretty eyes open. Keep them open for Nana, okay?”

Edith tried her damnedest to do as the witch told her. She focused her tunneling vision on her detached organ, still miraculously beating the last of its juices out the severed arteries. The witch had retrieved a long silver needle and some white thread, and, with surprising dexterity and grace, she began to sew up the tear in the middle of the heart. Edith watched, fascinated, as the lines of stitches were drawn across the red flesh. After a while, the pain in her chest subsided, the blood falling from her mouth lessening to a drip. By the time the witch had finished, she reached up to touch her chest and found that the hole was gone. It did not hurt anymore, but she was left feeling strangely empty and a little cold.

“There we go,” said the witch, helping Edith to her feet. “See? That wasn’t so bad, was it?”

Edith shook her head vaguely, her eyes glassy and struggling to focus, staring around as if she had no idea where she was. Meanwhile, the witch slithered heavily through the water back to her wall of hearts. With the very needle and thread she had used to mend it, she hung Edith’s heart up with the others, the organ still silently pulsing against its skeletal stitches. Satisfied, the witch sat down in the water and smiled at her confused houseguest.

“Does it hurt anymore, Eedie, dear?” she asked.

Edith looked back at her and slowly shook her head. “No, ma’am.”

“Are you still sad?”

Another slow shake of the head. “No, ma’am.”

“Do you miss Mary?”

The woman blinked. “Who?”

The witch smiled, showing all of her wicked little teeth. “Good… Well, it’s been lovely having you here, my child, but it’s time to bid you adieu. The moon is moving quickly tonight, and I must catch up with it before the dawn catches me. You understand. Now run along, scurry back to your little village, don’t dawdle.”

Edith opened her mouth to say something only to quickly shut it, unsure of exactly what she wanted to say. All she knew for sure was that she was tired, physically and spiritually, and that she wanted to go home, maybe spend a few hours in the church confessional repenting for… whatever it was she had just done. Turning on hesitant feet, she passed through the fingernail curtain and waded in silence towards the front door. However, just as she pushed it open into the noiseless black night, the witch called out to her from behind.

“Oh, Eedie, before you go, I just want you to know this… Do you remember the bodies they found in the river, how they reasoned that they had somehow been my doing? Let me be clear with you. I mend what is broken. I have never broken a single thing in my life. Not a bone, not a mind, and certainly not a human life. However… whatever happens to the heartless soul that leaves my house… well, that is beyond my control. I suppose alligators are just… drawn… to the smell of a freshly opened body.” A laugh, a deep, sinister, knowing laugh. “Goodbye, Eedie, my love.”

As a chill ran up her spine like a long, bony finger, Edith spun around, only to find that the door – and the house she had come out of – was completely gone. No hanging carcasses, no flickering red candlelight, no monstrous witch. She stood alone in the center of an empty black pond, the moon shining balefully on the water like fresh tar, the only smells present being swamp muck and vegetation.

Before she had a chance to regain her senses, ripples glided over her ankles. Falling deathly still, Edith looked around and saw a dozen little pairs of stars dotting the water’s edge, round and glinting like hungry white eyes. As she let out a single, horrified breath, all the little stars simultaneously dipped into the muck, sending one final wave of ripples her way.

For one last moment, all was perfectly silent.

Credit To – MercuryCoatedVeins

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